In Trotter’s debut novel, an Italian family man’s love affair forces him to confront the shifting cultural landscape.
As a small child growing up in Italy,Bruno Cassini sees his father parade his philandering in front of his mother. After hearing his uncle scold his father—telling him that he should be more discreet—Bruno concludes that if “his mother didn’t know where his father was going, it wouldn’t hurt her.” He then swears to himself: “I’m never going to be like him.” By the late 1960s, he’s a teacher approaching middle age with a wife and young daughter. He begins a passionate affair with a former student, an American woman named Nadia, after a chance encounter. But, as he swore, he’s not like his father—his wife, Ivana, doesn’t catch on to his double life. Bruno and Nadia enjoy a romantic summer together until the realities of family life get in the way, and the two must finally decide what their relationship is worth. Readers will likely find the plot thin and familiar, as not much happens over the course of the book, and what does happen is predictable. There is a small subplot involving a mentally ill Jewish woman who moved to Italy after World War II, but her story feels superfluous. The book seems primarily concerned with examining the differences between men and women, and between Americans and Italians. Trotter’s prose is fine, and her dialogue is often amusing (“ ‘I sent you a note explaining, but I think I sent it to the wrong address.’ ‘I didn’t get a note.’… ‘I know. I sent it to the wrong address’ ”).However, readers may tire of the novel’s many evaluations and remembrances of the first half of the 20th century. That said, its exploration of late-1960s Florence is often intriguing, and history buffs will enjoy learning more about the disastrous Arno River flood of 1966; the story takes place primarily during the city’s recovery.
A pleasant novel, but one that reaches for revelations it can’t quite grasp.