An awkward if impassioned coming-of-age story set in the Pacific Northwest, Italy, and New York City, and involving art and spirituality.
Jo Shepherd’s terminally ill grandfather Frank wants her to attend college in her home state of Washington. But shortly before Frank dies, the Virgin Mary appears and urges Jo to follow her dream of going to Italy to become an artist, a plan that necessitates not only dishonoring Frank’s wishes but also abandoning a childhood sweetheart named Jack. In Florence, these and other past issues emerge, as do new visions triggered by encounters with statues, frescoes, and two young American expatriates who vie, it seems, for Jo’s affections: Chad, a soulful cellist who plays on the street but really studies politics, and Walter, a worldly cynic adrift in Europe. Walter champions Jo’s art and bankrolls her studio—into which she sneaks Chad—while her portraits of saints reveal equally her torment and ecstasies. Unannounced, Jack shows up around New Year’s and things begin to unravel. Chad reveals himself to be something less than a knight in shining armor, and Walter more than a disinterested friend. Jo’s final artistic apprenticeship takes place in the crucible of New York City’s Lower East Side, where the young artist finds her fullest vocabulary and a prestigious gallery. She leaves for Washington to face unfinished romantic business with Jack and to avoid the imminent enormous success of her show. Jo is full of purpose and can be engaging, but her tale suffers from an artificiality in its expository shortcuts—those visions and frescoes, for example—from flatness of scene, and from a fractured chronology that intrudes more than illuminates.
Could possibly appeal to college-age travelers to Europe, but more demanding readers will understandably say no.