“SIRACUSA,” BY DELIA EPHRON
PUBLISHER: BLUE RIDER PRESS; JULY 12, 2016
Synopsis: New Yorker’s 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.
With her inimitable psychological astuteness and uncanny understanding of the human heart, Ephron delivers a powerful meditation on marriage, friendship, and the meaning of travel. Set on the sun-drenched coast of the Ionian Sea, Siracusa unfolds with the pacing of a psychological thriller and delivers an unexpected final act that none will see coming.
Review: Not sure exactly where to begin on this one, but I will say it was definitely not what I expected. “Siracusa” tells the story of two couples traveling together to Italy. Michael and Lizzie are from New York, and Finn, Taylor and their daughter, Snow are from Portland. For some reason, these couples take annual vacations together, although it didn’t appear that anyone got along except for Finn and Lizzie – who also used to date. Michael is a somewhat famous writer/playwright and Lizzie is a struggling journalist. Finn runs a marina (I think) and Taylor is a stay at home mom that is obsessed with their 10-year-old daughter Snow. Taylor always rides in the back seat of the car with Snow and even sleeps with her when they travel, putting her husband on a cot or sleeper sofa. Snow is a strange little thing. Although apparently intelligent, Snow says very little and makes even fewer facial expressions. When asked questions, she looks at Taylor who typically answers for her. This begins to change, however, as she becomes almost obsessed with Michael. Michael begins taking an interest in Snow, mainly to avoid spending time with his wife, and soon Snow always wants to be around him and listen to his stories that are not at all appropriate for a child’s ears. Finn and Lizzie drink and flirt with one another endlessly telling secrets and lies. Michael lies constantly and is dealing with his own issues, and of course, Taylor is obsessed with her daughter and spying on Finn wondering if he’s taken up smoking again.
There are several things that I both liked and disliked about “Siracusa.” First of all, each chapter is written from a different character’s perspective, either Michael, Lizzie, Finn, or Taylor. As the book progressed this provided some clues and insight as to what was going on, but otherwise it was confusing and I often found myself backtracking to find out who was talking. I also never really understood why these couples take annual vacations together because no one had anything in common with the other. The book begins with Finn and Lizzie breaking up, but never really explained the reason for their ongoing friendship. Actually, to correct myself Lizzie and Taylor did have something in common. Both women were completely clueless and oblivious to what their husbands were doing or wanted to do with other women. They both seemed like intelligent women but were trapped in a fantasy regarding their marriages. The alternating perspectives also left me wondering where they were and what they were doing – several times. I would think they were at dinner when actually they were touring a building or something. Or I would think that everyone was together when actually Finn and Lizzie were off drinking alone.
An interesting aspect of this novel is watching the characters slowly unravel amidst all of the lies and secrets. Taylor keeps her accommodating and pleasing smile and nature for the most part, but everyone else pretty much falls apart in their own ways. I think this could have been a more powerful part of the novel if told from fewer perspectives because again it was confusing who was yelling at who or who was doing what. By the end of the novel, the only person that I had any interest in and just a tiny ounce of respect for was Lizzie. Everyone else returned to their lives as if there hadn’t been a tragedy while they were in Siracusa. It was evident, however, that everything weighed heavily on Lizzie. I respect the choices Lizzie made in the end, but I would have been delighted to see some horrible demise come to Michael, Finn, Taylor, and even 10-year-old Snow. Perhaps I shouldn’t wish harm on a child, but if you have read this or do read it then you will understand. She’s creepy and so incredibly entitled that it’s nauseating at times, although not really her own fault.
The overall plot is fine although two married couples traveling together that do not like each other is not really ground-breaking. The original idea probably had excellent potential but the characters are so unlikable it’s challenging to even focus on the plot and events of the novel. This may sound contradictory but this novel keeps you interested and it is a page-turner. Although it involves such miserable people, you find yourself flying through the book, perhaps in hopes of someone actually saying or doing something nice to one of the others? There is a huge twist towards the end that I did not see coming and although sad, it added to the excitement of the novel. How it was dealt with by the characters, however, made me cringe.
“Siracusa” is definitely not one of my favorite books that I’ve read, but reviews on it are mixed. Some people hate it, others love it and some are in the middle. I couldn’t get past the crappy characters and the overall dark feeling I had once finished reading but it is definitely an interesting look into people when they no longer care about anyone but themselves.
Learn more about Delia Ephron by visiting her web page.
Purchase “Siracusa” on Amazon.
*I received this novel from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.