In a novella with strains which are reminiscent of Death in Venice, an isolated island off the coast of Italy works its evil magic on a young American woman and the writer who is with her. The mail boat is the only tie to the mainland and to the reader with the letters it carries which reveal the story as Martha Baker writes her mother, a friend, and a former lover with varying degrees of candor, and as Oscar Tower writes a friend. At first happy, Martha changes as she discovers Oscar's inability to write on the island, his distance from her, his increasing preoccupation with a beautiful island boy, Mario. Mario's death does nothing to end the personal impasse; and the villagers become alienated and taunt Martha. Martha leaves by the mail boat, but it cannot save her. She dies in Rome, and Oscar is left to face his failure. The letter form is handled skillfully to create and evoke an absorbing though not highly original study in mood and change.