Tuesday, September 4, 2018

The Italian Party

Title:  The Italian Party
Author:  Christina Lynch
Publication Information:  St. Martin's Press. 2018. 336 pages.
ISBN:  1250147832 / 978-1250147837

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Newlyweds Mr. and Mrs. Michael Messina drove down the Via Cassia from Florence, he at the wheel, she with the map."

Favorite Quote:  "She began to realize that most of what we say in the follows predictable patterns. We use the same phrasings for asking for things, for talking about the weather, for expressing sympathy, for expressing affection. There are scripts we follow without even thinking about it. She wasn't learning the language word by word; she was learning it by living it."

The Italian Party is a book that tries to define itself within its own text. "Sometimes Michael felt like he was not an intelligence officer for a superpower locked in a cold war that could lead to nuclear destruction, but instead had written himself into a screwball comedy about rich people's hijinks, like My man Godfrey or Bringing up Baby. The Italian Party."

Newlyweds Michael and Scottie arrive in Siena in 1956, as Italy is still recovering and trying to move on from the effects of World War II. After a quick courtship and wedding, they are still getting to know each other. Both have their secrets and their own reasons for the wedding. Regardless, they are prepared to make a go of it. Michael's job brings him a grand vision of saving the world from communism. Scottie comes along for the ride.

 Along the way, they meet a whole cast of American and Italian characters. They also realize that their story is a very small part of grander machinations at play. The book tumbles through both their getting to know each other and getting to know Italy and perhaps most of all, acknowledge who they are themselves.

The broader story offers a commentary on America's role in the world particularly in that era. "They were arriving in Siena as part of a wave of missionaries bringing the American way of life to what they were certain would be a grateful populace." The reality they discover is, not surprisingly, quite different from what they imagine. At the same time, the broader story encompasses life in Italy, some real and some as a stereotype might image. It also transports the reader back into the Cold War era of espionage.

The narrower story of Michael and Scottie is the story of a marriage and of two people who must still grow into and own who they are as individuals. Certain big lies are at the foundation of this relationship. "That was what she had been taught. That was what he believed she had learned." The subtle difference between those two thoughts creates a huge divide. The question becomes if they can grow and mature and still create something real and true out of those lies. The issue for me is that their story fails to draw me in emotionally. I don't invest in the two characters enough to really care where their story ends up.

Perhaps, the biggest reason is that throughout the book, I am unsure if this is satirical comedy or a serious story. This applies to both the broader story and to Michael and Scotti's story. The setup of Cold War threats imply a seriousness; Michael's bumbling almost childish attempts at espionage portray a comic character. Scottie's appearance of immersing herself into the local culture imply a thoughtful look at that culture; her frequent return to memories of the United States and her obsession with horses pull away from that theme. At the end, I am somewhat entertained but somewhat confused as to what the book is really about.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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