First-novelist Estill’s fatal romantic triangle aims for Greek tragedy but produces Greek watercolors instead.
Grieving the loss of the mother who took ill during her last year of college, Sylvia Harris, who can’t stay in the same place as her memories, has ended up in Athens. Even more haunting memories arrive, however, on the wing of Althea Melas, the beautiful, schizophrenic wife of painter Aristides Melas, from the moment Sylvia meets her in the National Gardens. Sylvia’s matter-of-fact acceptance of Althea despite her madness ironically throws her together with Ari, and eventually, after token resistance, into his bed. Divorcing Althea is out of the question, Ari maintains, though it isn’t certain whether that’s because he still loves her or because he’s afraid of the wealthy and powerful family who concealed her malady from him until after his wedding. And giving Sylvia up is equally impossible. So the ill-starred trio drift through a series of picture-postcard backdrops—punctuated by Sylvia’s gently lacerating memories of her mother and her continued fascination with her late father’s acquaintance, celebrated Death Row inmate Dr. Sam Sheppard—as the lovers slowly acknowledge that Althea, whose near presence seems to hover like a benediction over their couplings, does indeed understand, along with virtually everyone else they meet, what’s going on between them. Althea stuns them by announcing that she’s pregnant; a boating accident leaves the three of them adrift; a cousin’s wedding Althea insists on attending has inevitably fatal results. Yet all three sides of the loving triangle, especially Althea, remain inscrutable, screened by dazzling Greek landscapes, even during the most vividly rendered scenes.
Evocative stuff, sure; but unlike her celebrated Athenian models, Estill never makes it clear what human reality is being evoked.