A veteran novelist genially recaptures an extended vacation in northern Italy.
Though he left behind the overtly religious themes of his past three novels, Merullo (American Savior, 2008, etc.) retained his preoccupation with slowing down and savoring life, goals that seemed more attainable in laid-back Italy. When the author needed a snack for his young daughter while playing mini-golf, the proprietor of a nearby restaurant simply gestured to some potato chips on the bar and said, “take the bowl if you want.” When he noticed elsewhere that the bill for a meal didn’t include the wine he’d had, the waiter shrugged with amusement, “It’s nothing…a glass of wine.” Granted, playing golf was a bit more stressful; the ten-handicap Merullo didn’t break 80 on the local par-70 course until his last game. On the whole, his description of a summer in a rented house on Lake Como features good meals, good friends and a generally good time. This makes for a breezy but slightly bland narrative. The witty, good-natured character sketches would be more fun if occasionally contrasted with a more stinging portrait. Only two types of situations provoked the author to exasperation: trying to follow characteristically vague Italian driving directions (sempre diritto, “always straight”), and playing a bad game of golf. In both cases, the dangers of total recall—or a diary to rely on—are evident. Readers may skip the detailed descriptions of missed exits and wrong turns, and although fellow golfers will wince in sympathy over extended bouts of poor play, those who don’t know a birdie from a bogey will lose interest. Anyone willing to overlook the slightly self-indulgent tone, however, will enjoy a colorful, affectionate tour of Italian landscape and food.
Agreeable but slight—best for golfers and inveterate armchair travelers.