Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines's take on Siracusa.
What a strange and engrossing tale. What at first seems normal in appearance soon becomes a dark landscape of infidelity and betrayal. Lizzie and Michael, Finn and Taylor begin by thinking they have happy marriages, yet like all relationships, positivism has its limitations. As their vacation in Italy unfolds, it is hard to admit that these four people are actually going to sell out to each other. The trip to Siracusa, Sicily, is actually Lizzie’s idea, inspired by a moment of spontaneity and enthusiasm, even “a slight inebriation.” Lizzie had a summer fling with Finn years before and has maintained an intermittent attachment with him that neither party fully understands. Taylor, who actually plans the trip,
becomes increasingly suspicious, certain that there’s some kind of conspiracy. She’s convinced that the vacation is way for Lizzie to be “every day in their lives.”
Still, the sojourn begins enthusiastically. From their first days in Rome, Ephron views her characters through the prism of a single lens, unfolding each of their voices in internal stream-of-consciousness style. While Finn is intent to go off and do his own thing, Michael forms a connection with Snow, Finn’s daughter (“a tender sprout of a girl but clearly a beauty like her mom.”). On their first night at dinner, Michael enchants, regaling Taylor and Snow with how he discovered theater and fame.
Lizzie admits that she’s jealous of Michael, perhaps because of her own
inability to find work as a journalist. Michael--a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright--comes across as the story’s prize narcissist. Delusional, selfish, obsessive, and sometimes manic, Michael is intelligent and thoughtful but also brutish and given to fits of depression and unnatural euphoria. He is dangerous to Lizzie and Finn, who sees Michael as competition for Snow’s attentions.
Although the seeds of betrayal were planted long before the trip, not until they land in Sircausa
do Ephron’s characters accelerate into a willful denial. Lizzie’s flirtations with Finn are a way to reclaim something she’s lost, a sense of possibility severed from hope and from despair. Finn becomes ever more reckless. He may view the world from a friendly perspective, finding opportunity where others may not, yet Finn is never quite ready to consider the implications of his actions: “What’s a vacation if it doesn’t get crazy!”
Every betrayal is seen as a minor offense. At one stage, Lizzie confesses to Michael that Finn is thinking of cheating, yet this admission hides Michael’s own hollow infidelities. Michael realizes too late that he has acted in a way that can be misunderstood. When he gets a note from his lover that she’s just arrived in Siracusa, Michael is finally forced to shoulder the panic and worry and guilt: “She could not be here and yet she was.” While Michael worries about telling Lizzie, Taylor--perhaps the most difficult character--obsesses about Snow. Taylor has a snotty and judgmental streak a mile wide that can be traced back in part to her Upper East Side upbringing. Clearly she hates Sircausa and she hates being on vacation with Taylor and Michael. Unsurprisingly, Finn is also in constant denial, his attraction to Lizzie implying that he is trying to recapture his youth through her. This is a recurring situation thought-out Ephron’s novel: the husband who misinterprets his wife and ignores her entreaties until it is far too late.
Beyond the gorgeous setting of Siracusa--its empty streets, dilapidated low-rise apartment buildings, and scenic views of the Mediterranean,--phron’s novel is about secrets and who
you choose to take on the journey of marriage. We all crave marriage’s status and stability, but Ephron seems to be saying this is mostly an illusion.
In the end, marriage can’t protect us from heartbreak or from the random cruelties and unfairness that life constantly deals out.
Although I sometimes found myself confused by Ephron’s alternative-voiced narrative (I had to keep switching back to the chapter headings to see who was talking), I thought the novel was exacting in the way it presented unexpected moments of erotic tension. Watch out for Snow. While at first she seems an enchanting part of Siracusa, she ends up playing a pivotal role, redefining what is endurable and what is acceptable while the rest of the characters, including her parents are left exposed and vulnerable.