Inside the head of yet another overheated, middle-aged Englishman in Italy (as in Europa, 1998): in his tenth novel the
effortlessly inventive Parks ratchets up the tragedy and tones down the laughs for a portrait of a man plunged into despair by
a schizophrenic son's suicide.
A respected journalist who, seeking deeper meaning, turned from coverage of Italy's endless political intrigues to a
book-length treatment of “national character,” Chris Burton is in London with his wife, Mara, when he receives the phone call
reporting the death of their only son, Marco. His first thought, the most abiding one in the fog of days to follow, is that his
30-year marriage is over. Mara is larger than life, theatrically Italian, a downtrodden Roman aristocrat and a shameless flirt who
for years has charmed and overpowered him and everyone else she encounters—as she demonstrates at Heathrow by a
performance that gains them seats on the first available plane home. Burton can’t bring himself to tell her they're through, not
even when they visit the morgue and she refuses to let him see Marco with her. Instead, grief takes them on separate trajectories,
as Burton goes to stay with their adopted daughter, estranged from Mara, and discovers he's seriously ill, while his wife takes
over the funeral arrangements and has Marco shipped from Turin to Rome. Meanwhile, Burton proceeds with his plan to
interview disgraced former Italian prime minister Andreotti, the capstone of research for his book, while his physical condition
deteriorates. Only after Marco is buried does Burton see his spouse again. Following a volatile exchange in the cemetery, he
realizes their tragedy is shared and that they have somehow, impossibly, arrived at a new understanding.
The male stream of consciousness is rendered no less skillfully and intricately here than in Parks's previous novel, but some
essential spark goes out in the shift from comic to tragic.