Friday, May 27, 2016

Book Review: "Siracusa" by Delia Ephron

A little soapy, a little sexy, even a little sinister, Delia Ephron's Siracusa is really good. I found myself disliking each character more than the next one, but that made it kind of fun. In fact, this reminded me a little of one of Liane Moriarty's novels—you find the people odious but utterly fascinating and you can't pull yourself away.

Michael and Lizzie are quintessential New Yorkers. He won a Pulitzer for his first play and gained more acclaim for his memoir, but he's having trouble bringing his novel to fruition, and he's fallen behind. Way behind. Lizzie was a writer, too, but somehow she's lost her gift and she can't seem to reclaim it. And she seems to be losing Michael as well—their relationship seems to have lost its spark.

Lizzie decides the solution to everyone's problems is to plan a trip to Italy with friends who live in Maine—Finn, her long-ago boyfriend who still tries to get under her skin; Taylor, his high-maintenance, control-freak of a wife; and Snow, the couple's 11-year-old daughter, who vacillates between almost-painful shyness and hidden manipulation. Michael doesn't want to go on the trip, but Lizzie drags him with her.

The quintet travel from Rome to Siracusa; the latter, which isn't as refined a destination as the former, leaves Taylor unsettled by its lack of luxury and high-end hotels. On this trip, there's flirtation, the revealing of secrets (some intentional, some accidental), feelings of betrayal, the awakening of a strange and potentially dangerous infatuation, and lots and lots of drama.

"And why do most of us want marriage? Crave it for status or for stability that is an illusion. Marriage can't protect you from heartbreak or the random cruelties and unfairnesses life deals out. It's as if we're chicks pecking our way out of our shells, growing into big birds splendid with feathers, and then piece by piece, we put the shells back together, reencasing ourselves, leaving perhaps an eyehole, minimal exposure. Having pecked our way out to live, we work our way back to survive. Deluded, of course. Shells crack easily."

Siracusa is told in alternating points of view among Lizzie, Michael, Finn, and Taylor, in a Rashomon-type style, each one bringing a different perspective to the same incidents, seeing and hearing and feeling something lost on the others. I had this not-unappealing feeling of dread as I read this book, because the characters kept alluded to something, some incident in the future, and I both wanted and didn't want to know what it was. And as I said a thousand prayers of Thanksgiving that I didn't know anyone like this in real life, I found these characters so fascinating in a watching-a-car-crash kind of way.

Perhaps you'll see the ending coming a little quicker than I did, but I don't think it'll detract from your enjoyment of this book if you know what you'll get. I had never read any of Delia Ephron's work, but she is quick with a phrase, skilled with dialogue, and masterful with creating memorable (and perhas a bit creepy) characters. This feels like a beach read but it's so, so much more than that.

First to Read and Blue Rider Press provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

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