I picked this book up after listening to the audiobook Left on Tenth, Delia Ephron’s memoir about the period of her life after she lost her beloved husband, found new love, and then dealt with serious health issues. She narrated her own memoir, and that is my favorite type of audiobook – a memoir read aloud by the author. The book itself was charming and well written – I haven’t known an Ephron whose work doesn’t translate well when read aloud. I loved hearing about her friends and relationships, and I really enjoyed learning more about her process as she is writing novels. I hadn’t read much (any) of Delia Ephron’s work, but being a person who consumed lots of movies in the 1990s I am familiar with her writing from the screen (Hanging Up, You’ve Got Mail, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and my family’s holiday favorite Mixed Nuts, to name a few). When she mentioned Siracusa, a story of two couples vacationing in a small town in Italy when things go decidedly sideways, I was intrigued.
The novel is told from multiple perspectives – each of the four adults shares their understanding of the events that take place on their vacation. Lizzie and Finn used to date, many years ago, but have married different people. Now they are early 40sish, and Finn has married Taylor, a beautiful if somewhat vapid woman who dotes exclusively on their strange ten-year-old daughter Snow. Lizzie married the slightly older playwright Michael. Finn and Taylor have a relationship that involves almost no intimacy at all, not even touching hands. Finn spends most of his time focused on his restaurant, drinking wine (beer was contributing to too much weight gain), and chasing women – including the odd attempt at getting Lizzie into bed again. Lizzie, for her part, entertains Finn, but she’s only interested in mild flirting. For Lizzie, her focus is her husband Michael. Michael is … less devoted. He’s actually considering how to leave his wife for the waitress he’s been sleeping with for some time.
Ephron maneuvers these adults, plus the other-worldly child Snow, into a vacation together, and once she sets the scene, she lets each character reveal more and more of their own story. Through alternating views of a single dinner, the story plays out cinematically. There is lots of early foreshadowing that something goes quite wrong on this trip, and the suspense builds as the relationships become increasingly more chaotic. At the climax, you learn what the mystery is about, and some characters receive some form of justice, while others most decidedly do not.
Ephron is a great writer and she kept the story moving quite nicely. I was not entirely fond of the ways in which the ten year old girl was mildly sexualized – I have a ten year old daughter, and I cannot even remotely imagine anyone looking at a ten year old in the ways described in this book – maybe an early teenager? I know that Snow is meant to be a vaguely distressing character in many different ways, but I found her portrayal to be the thing I was least interested in and most disappointed in with the book overall. The depiction of the marriages and relationships between adults was well done, and while it was definitely about some really dysfunctional people and relationships it was written so well that I enjoyed reading about them, even when I disliked them. The book is suspenseful, but not a mystery or a thriller. It’s a sexy, well-plotted page-turner – overall, it’s a hell of a lot of fun.