The talented Scott (Make Believe, 2000, etc.) makes a big story out of a small one, resulting in a novel one moment compelling, the next in longueurs.
In 1944, Murray Murdoch was one of the GIs lucky enough to be assigned to the island of Elba for a happy respite from the war (the soldiers played football on the beaches). He liked it so much (the locals gave him a piece of native blue tourmaline) that 12 years later he takes his wife and four young sons, on borrowed money, to stay for a month and look for more of the island’s reputed semi-precious gems. The family is so contented that their stay in a hillside villa goes through the autumn and even into the following year, as Murray borrows more money to buy patches of land that he hopes will be gem-bearing. But they’re not, and the tale pushes on, the boys sporting outdoors while affable Murray—who can never hold a job, drinks too much, and thought Elba was his shot at paradise—comes up with nothing after long days of prospecting. He befriends expatriate Englishman Francis Cape, a blocked writer who’s been on the island for years, hoping to write on Napoleon. The parallels that emerge between the great Napoleon and the muddling American father, Murray, fail disastrously to pull the story ahead, and the melodrama intended to help—an aristocratic local girl disappears, Murray coming under suspicion—does as much to freeze the tale as free it. The family returns to the US—and 45 years later the youngest son visits Elba to meditate on it all, recapture the past, and put the resultant gems on these pages, their tone too often far more intense than anything the reader feels.
A book, this time, that in manner and method is in excess of the tale it’s telling—a size-four story in a size-twelve suit.