Lawton’s (Imagining Russia 2000, 2004) novel looks at the half-century journey of two best friends who moved from Italy to the United States in 1967.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Amy is in her 50s and living in New York City. She was born and raised around Turin, Italy, at the end of the 1940s, the wealthy daughter of an American, Larry, and an Italian, Anna. The fact that Amy had a foreign father caused local kids to shun her, but she did have one best friend—an Italian girl named Stella. Now, in 2001, she’s taken over Larry’s publishing house and is committed to finally publishing what she feels is the most important manuscript in her possession—Stella’s diaries, written between 1967 and 1985. Much of Stella’s memoir, which comprises Part 2 of this novel, is about her deep, complicated relationship with Jim Welsh, a film scholar and teacher in Venice, California. Jim is moody, Stella is restless, and after a few years, they separate. The first-person manuscript ends abruptly in 1985, and Part 3 of the narrative jumps to 2001 once again as Amy decides to turn Stella’s memoir into a novel. Savvy readers will suspect that something isn’t quite as it appears, as Italian author Lawton, in her first novel in English, effectively drops breadcrumbs along the way. Her prose is more expository than passionate in nature, and it includes numerous engaging discussions about the political, cultural, and social movements roiling America in different eras. However, these sometimes come at the expense of a fuller portrayal of Amy and Stella’s immigrant journey. Readers may wish that Lawton had provided more about how the women found their place and purpose in a new country in changing times.
An intriguing tale with a clever narrative twist that nearly compensates for its lack of dramatic excitement.