“In life one rarely knows which remarks of the hundreds uttered in the course of a day will turn out to be auspicious. In fiction, foreshadowing is planted and flagged in some (hopefully or desperately) subtle way, drama demands it.”
In July, I joined the Book of the Month Club, and I’m so glad I did. Each month, BOTM judges choose five books from which members can choose. Members receive one book as part of their membership, but they can also add additional books for $9.99. BOTM has allowed me to explore new titles that I maybe wouldn’t have purchased in hard cover, and so far, I have enjoyed both of the books I’ve chosen. Siracusa by Delia Ephron was my choice for August, and it has been moved to the top of the list of the best books I’ve read this summer–possibly this year (joining Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi).
For those unfamiliar with Delia Ephron, she is a prolific and talented writer who is responsible for numerous plays, movies (including You’ve Got Mail and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants), and books (like Sister, Mother, Husband, Dog and The Lion is in).
Siracusa recounts two couples’ travels in Italy and the disastrous consequences when secrets and betrayals are unveiled. Michael and Lizzie are writers from NYC. He is famous and award-winning and desperately trying to complete a novel that will reaffirm his talent. She is a not-so-successful journalist looking for the next big story. They are joined on the trip by Lizzie’s college boyfriend, Finn, and his wife, Taylor. Snow, their pre-teen daughter, further complicates the awkward dynamics of the group.
The novel employs a Rashomon style structure, each chapter alternating between the characters’ perspectives. While many writers attempt this structure, Ephron uses it so successfully to build tension, create humor, and to engage the reader. Each chapter feels like a confession, and the characters’ voices are distinct. There are even many laugh-out-loud moments when the characters’ interpretations of events contradict one another. One of the exciting things about the structure of the novel and what it does so well is that the reader knows secrets long before the characters and, therefore, feels implicated in the events and infidelities revealed throughout the story.
Ephron creates fascinating, complicated, and unreliable characters (who I loved to hate) that kept me turning the pages. In fact, the novel reads like a suspense, though the majority of the story is focused on more domestic matters. Ephron adeptly examines the psychological motivations of her characters and builds tension from the beginning. The reader knows from the start that something horrible happened in Siracusa, and even with all of the foreshadowing, nothing is ruined, and the outcomes are still surprising.
“From the start it was a conspiracy between Lizzie and Finn to be together.”
Siracusa is definitely in my wheelhouse and is a perfect summer read (or any other season read). It explores the blurry lines between fact and fiction, truth and lies. And it is about family, marriage, and betrayal. I definitely recommend this for fans of The Nest, Fates and Furies, and even Gone Girl. And if you haven’t read those, read Siracusa anyway. You won’t regret it.