Review: Siracusa

Siracusa, by prolific author Delia Ephron, is my third read of the year. It’s not even halfway through the month and I’m already patting myself on the back for sticking only to my shelves and not actually buying anything new (although I do have a December BookOutlet haul to show off . . . ).

This book came on my radar via Book of the Month Club — it was an August pick a couple years back — and though I was intrigued by the premise (more on that later), I hesitated to buy the book because I’d read some pretty mixed reviews online. As fate would have it, I bought this book for my Litsy winter solstice book exchange partner, only to discover she’d purchased it right before I shipped out my box of goodies. I did a quick swap with a book from my own shelf and decided to give Siracusa a read.

To be brief: the novel follows two couples (Lizzie & Michael, Taylor & Finn) on a couples retreat to hell Italy. Told from the perspective of quite possibly the literary world’s most unreliable narrators, Siracusa bounces from one member of the very conflicted and entwined foursome to another. Taylor and Finn have brought a heavy dose of discontent and their clinically-diagnosed-as-extremely-shy daughter, Snow, who is ten and — to be frank — disconcertingly watchful and quiet. Lizzie and Michael have packed up silent betrayals and insecurities and gleefully brought them abroad. The couples plan to spend ten days together, first in Rome, then in Siracusa, each with his or her own idea of how to maximize their time.

Would this be a good time to mention that Lizzie and Finn have a (secret) romantic history from several years back? Yeah. About that. . . .

Straight from the beginning, it was clear that this novel was a disaster waiting to happen. Within the first 15 pages, one of the foursome tells readers, “I can tell my story as well as the rest of them. Although I’ll mess with you now and then, I warn you. I like to do that.” Meanwhile, I’m drumming my fingers together like — Alrighty then! Bring it on, Ephron. A short novel, Siracusa breezes by in under 300 pages of picturesque Italian bliss and a hearty helping of drama.

The Good: Ephron’s writing is unique and each character — batshit crazy though he or she may be — is distinctive in voice and mannerisms. The novel’s greatest strength lies in the author’s compelling characterization that doesn’t falter once from start to finish. The plot is reasonably unbelievable and enticing. Honestly, this book is worth a read just for the absolutely startling characters and the hilarity that is their unraveling throughout the plot.

The Bad: The story does some weaving between past and present within each narrator’s segment, which can get a bit confusing at times. There were some sections I had to read a few times just to make sure I was following the action, and though this could be somewhat contributed to minor distractions, I felt that at places the novel was just too cluttered. I also had a pretty good idea about where things were going fairly early on — foreshadowing may have been a bit too heavy.

The Verdict: 3.5 stars — borrow, don’t buy.