SILENCE AT SALERNO by Francis Steegmuller


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A pleasant hodgepodge of farcical doings in and around the Bay of Naples, all of the intrigues somehow linked up through the engaging but passive character of vacationing Nat Haley, serious biographer and recent widower. In Salerno, Nat runs into Donna Millicent (""Melba"") Rovigliano, an impoverished principessa whose grandfather was Jason Deming, subject of Nat's controversial but non-selling book (which revealed how a Midwestern university conned Deming out of his art collection). Then, on the island where he's staying, Nat encounters Lyle Brennan, an ostentatiously homosexual, self-promoting celebrity who wrote a vulgar novel about his cousin Julia (read Jackie O.), widow of an almost-president, now yacht-riding wife of billionaire Koulamian (read Onassis-and why this tasteless roman a clefing in an otherwise oh-sotasteful entertainment?). Lyle is waiting for the Koulamian yacht to appear so he can contrive a ""living sequel"" to his scandal-book, but he becomes distracted by a beautiful young man named Ladislao--who, it turns out, is Melba's ""nephew"" and a confederate (as is Melba herself) of some Italian terrorists and/ or smugglers. Most of this--including the intense speculation on Ladislao's true ancestry--is marginally intriguing and mildly amusing; only the local church's internal warfare is laugh-out-loud funny: the parish priest insists, to the consternation of the Mother Superior and others, on broadcasting pop-song cassettes with religious-seeming lyrics (""Someone to Watch Over Me,"" ""Let My People Come"") from the loudspeakers on the church roof. One gets the feeling that the learned Mr. Steegmuller wrote this as he went along, picking up and dropping plot strands as their charm glimmered and flickered; readers in search of elegantly low-keyed amusement will do well to peruse this in a similarly unexacting mood.

Pub Date: Sept. 11th, 1978
Publisher: Holt, Rinehart & Winston