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“I fell in love with Siracusa, but . . . the time between falling in love and being driven crazy was no time at all.”

They lie, they cheat, they play weird dinner games, and they steal frequent flier miles.  They completely upend the theory admonishing writers to avoid too many red herrings, unlikeable characters, and unreliable narrators.  They are the not-so-happy travelers that populate Delia Ephron’s latest, Siracusa.

Delia Ephron is the late Nora Ephron’s younger sister. She has fiction, non-fiction, and screenplays to her credit, but has always been a bit in the shadow of Nora (with whom she wrote “You’ve Got Mail”). She has a darker side than Nora ever had, and that serves her well in this tale of four adults who decide to vacation together in an Italian town called Siracusa.Two couples: Finn and Taylor, and Michael and Lizzie. Finn and Lizzie were once lovers. Taylor has a crush on Michael. Finn and Taylor brought along their beautiful, silent, and mysterious daughter, Snow. Snow never speaks; instead, she whispers into people’s ears and occasionally clucks – a method which never fails to get her attention.

The story is told first person, in alternating chapters from the viewpoints of the four primary adults (and I use the term in its loosest sense). There are many reasons not to bother trying to keep them straight, amongst them Finn’s early warning that he is going to “mess with you now and then, I warn you. I like to do that.” Another character reflects, “Concealing may be merely letting other people draw conclusions.”

You are not in reliable hands.

(By the way, I started messing with you in the quote beneath the title, and I didn’t stop there.)

It’s early in the review, but this is where I need to insert The Attentive Reader Will Note because, although everyone will enjoy the book, it is the attentive reader who will relish how Ephron wrote it.

  • She has a genius for integrating various time periods within every characters’ individual chapters. Paragraphs slide seamlessly from childhood to adulthood to the future after the character returns home from Siracusa and then back to Siracusa at the moment of telling.
  • The book never feels written; I had the sense I was face to face or in the mind of every character. By the time I finished, I realized I had created actual voices for each; if any of them telephoned me, I’d recognize the voice.
  • The innermost thoughts of characters are a big part of the revelatory scheme here, as each one does that free association thing where you think, “How did I get from thinking I need to add milk to the shopping list to remembering what I wore to my high school graduation?”
  • Within the first few pages it’s clear that foreshadowing is the order of the day, as is symbolic subtext. For example, Siracusa is rock and concrete, absent any sand: that matters. Even the book’s cover is telling you something, with its picture of Siracusa shattered into shards. Why does that matter?

I’ve messed with you just to get you in the mood, but there’s one thing upon which you may rely: this book is a great romp. Enjoy.