Published July 2016 by Blue Rider Press
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review
New Yorkers Michael, a famous writer, and Lizzie, a journalist, travel to Italy with their friends from Maine—Finn; his wife, Taylor; and their daughter, Snow. “From the beginning,” says Taylor, “it was a conspiracy for Lizzie and Finn to be together.” Told Rashomon-style in alternating points of view, the characters expose and stumble upon lies and infidelities, past and present. Snow, ten years old and precociously drawn into a far more adult drama, becomes the catalyst for catastrophe as the novel explores collusion and betrayal in marriage.
Unlike some of my fellow bloggers, I am terrible about writing down where I first heard about a book. So I have no idea when I became aware of this book when it came out last year. I just remember hearing good things about it. So when it came out in paperback and I was offered the chance to review, I jumped at it. And then, you know, the great reading slump hit. You'll also know that I've been working my way back out of that by reading thrillers. While Siracusa might not, technically, qualify as a thriller, it certainly has elements of that genre that made it a book that I raced through. It also feels very much like a work of literary fiction. That combination might be just what I need to ease me back into my usual reading pattern. Fingers crossed.
If you are going to fill a book with unlikable characters, as Ephron has, you had better make them very interesting. Ephron has not only created four unlikable characters, she also has all four of them giving first person narratives. It takes some skill to pull all of that off. Ephron pulls it off wonderfully, moving the story back and forth, giving readers scenes from multiple points of view, uncovering the lies and deceptions in these characters' lives.
Snow, oh Snow. Now there's a character you rarely see in a book. A character who never gets her own voice but who manipulates much of the action of the book. Sure she's only ten, but she might be the least likable character in the book. But her mother, with her creepy co-dependent ways; her father, who is far more interested in trying to seduce Lizzie than be a parent; Lizzie, who has engineered the entire trip to try to re-win her husband but spends as much time flirting with Finn and with Michael; and Michael, who is carrying on an affair and seems to develop an icky affection for Snow - they are all vying for the title.
All of that wrapped up in a book that explores marriage, fidelity, literary merit, elitism, parenting, travel, truth and lies.
"As for lying, in this story, which is also my life, I will make a case for the charm of it." - MichaelFrom the beginning of the book, we know something has happened because the four narratives are told from a future point. But Ephron gives little away and, when we got to that something, Ephron still had surprises for me. Even better, she left me wondering at the end. Given that one of the comforts I've been taking from reading of late has been the tidy ending, the fact that I was happy to be left wondering says something for this book.
|Left: Ortigia, part of Syracuse in Sicily; Right: Lo Scoglio, off Ortigia|
* With all of those themes and the ambiguous ending, Siracusa would make a terrific book club selection.