Travel writer enjoys cuisine, tango and reawakened sensuality in an airbrushed Buenos Aires.
Manhattan foodie and socialite Francesca, a native Neapolitan, is not aging gracefully. Her adult children have left the nest, and her Italian recipes have displaced sexual desire in her marriage; for some time now the only nookie between Francesca and banker husband George has been gnocchi. She’s resigned herself to celibacy (she doesn’t take seriously George’s urging to have an affair) when salvation arrives in the form of a magazine assignment. She’s to do a spread on the tango culture in Buenos Aires with special emphasis on a recent phenomenon: wealthy Brits and Americans who buy Tuck and Tango vacation packages combining plastic surgery and post-operative dance rehab. In Argentina, Francesca enrolls in tango classes, and the dance, a form of stylized intercourse, inflames her long-dormant libido. A target for her lust quickly surfaces in the shape of silver-haired Roberto, 40, a plastic surgeon and entrepreneur who has profited from the T&T trend. The novel tempers the lovers’ steamy grapplings with cool-down sections featuring Francesca’s other Argentinean friends: Ellie, an American singleton on her biennial tango (sans tuck) break; Sarah, a keen observer of Buenos Aires society scandals; Luis, an Adonis who’s risen from the barrio to international tango fame; and Analia, a danseuse who falls hopelessly in love with gay Luis during one of his capricious lapses into heterosexuality. From boudoir to ballroom, memoirist Chen (Rosemary and Bitter Oranges, 2003) displays a flair for sensory detail. However, her fictional characters transcend neither their formulaic roles (frigid epicurean spouse, sexy surgeon, etc.) nor the novel’s wish-fulfilling premise of an older woman emerging from invisibility to object of desire via a simple change of hemisphere. Promising complications—Francesca’s rival for both husband and lover is a billionairess in her 60s—are downplayed as minor blowback.
Like Francesca’s favorite dulce de leche, an indulgence for readers willing to binge on empty calories.