Intertwining stories of love, creativity and bad decisions span five centuries and two continents in beautifully crafted prose.
The road not taken is a major theme of the second novel by Canadian author Macfarlane (Summer Gone, 1999), but the road through the book is twisted. The main character is Oliver Hughson, a native of Cathcart, Ontario, who visits Europe in 1968 at the tender age of 20 and lands in Pietrabella, a small town in the Carrara marble quarrying region of Italy. There, he meets a free-spirited young sculptor named Anna Di Castello, with whom he carries on a passionate four-month affair before deciding to head back to Cathcart. Forty-one years later, he learns that he has a daughter, Teresa, who has only recently discovered who her father is. Teresa, the book’s main narrator, has come to Cathcart to meet him. Fascinating as a father-daughter reunion can be (think of Mamma Mia!), it is far from the only story in a zigzagging narrative. Not one chapter continues the story of the previous one. Some jump back to the 1500s, when Michelangelo visited Pietrabella. Off and on, the reader learns how a statue-surrounded pool identical to one in Pietrabella came be built in Cathcart and how a terrible quarry accident also links the towns. All this is told in prose often so radiant that some readers may find the book worthwhile: “The subject of marble was like a smoke that seeped through everything in that town. It’s not surprising that it drifted through our stories.” And much can be learned about sculpting, said to be “all about finding what lies beneath the surface. It’s about taking away what is there in order to find what isn’t.”
Patient readers can mine nuggets of wisdom and graceful writing beneath a frustratingly dense surface.