In Chu’s debut novel, a young American falls in love with a beautiful Italian woman while on vacation.
When John Marche, a young man with a substantial trust fund, travels to Italy to purchase a yacht, he isn’t expecting his life to be irrevocably changed. Then he meets a beautiful woman named Anna at a restaurant on the island of Capri. He’s ambivalent about settling down with his high-achieving girlfriend, Nicole, and he finds in Anna a seductive alternative path. She’s passionate and opinionated, and her poverty-stricken past doesn’t make her any less appealing to him; all too soon, they’re pledging their love to each other. Yet when Nicole surprises John by calling and telling him that she’s coming to visit, he must ultimately decide whether to stay with what he knows in Nicole or take a leap with Anna. John is a fundamentally unsympathetic protagonist, and the story suffers from being told primarily from his point of view. His moping about his outrageously privileged life becomes tedious, as when he explains his infidelity to Nicole: “[M]ost people would be envious. I have money. I don’t have to work. But from the inside, I felt like I wasn’t living. Not really.” Chu does make a concerted effort to give his readers glimpses into Nicole’s and Anna’s feelings about the situation; at one point, for example, Nicole tells John, “You’re never going to be Italian or European, even if you date this Italian girl Anna and cruise around Capri in your fancy Italian boat.” However, the overarching tone seems to be that John’s predicament is fully understandable, despite his appalling behavior. The flat prose and underdeveloped characters contribute to this sense of disconnect. If John were more fully realized, readers might have understood his motivations and conflicts more deeply. Instead, he simply comes off as an unfaithful man who thinks that his situation is somehow unique.
A frustrating, predictable tale of infidelity abroad.