A schematic third novel from Benedict (A World Like This, 1990; Bad Angel, 1995) uses a young woman's learning curve in love and life as a clumsy forum for a debate on freedom versus duty.
When 18-year-old Joyce Pearlman meets Nikos, a Greek sailor, in a Miami supermarket in the early 1970s, she's aimless, thinks her parents uncaring, and is ready for the change and love Nikos offers. But Nikos, as handsome as any Greek god, is a traditional man who expects his wife to obey both him and his mother. Once married, he takes Joyce home to the small island of Ifestia, where she lives with Mom and Dad while Nikos sails the seven seas. Mother-in-law Dimitra, a tough old bird who has survived countless wars (her biography conveniently leads to a reprise of recent Greek history), is determined that Joyce, though an American, will make Nikos the wife he deserves. She beats Joyce, makes her do the roughest chores, and keeps her busy working the family's small hardscrabble farm. Initially, Joyce appreciates the closeness her new family offers—she understands that Nikos' parents do love her—and accepts the traditional limits on women's freedom. But when she meets Alex, an educated young Englishman, she begins to question these restrictions.The two meet secretly, and Joyce is again smitten—whereupon the boorish Nikos suddenly returns. Joyce, who has kept her Jewish faith a secret, now finds herself overwhelmed by the flood of other secrets she's keeping. When an English girl tells her that “if you have to hide so much from the people you love, you can never be free,” and when further revelations come out on all sides, Joyce realizes she’s got to make a new life for herself.
If only Joyce had remembered to beware of Greeks bearing gifts. As is, she's stuck in a novel with a creaky plot, thin characters, and old arguments.