Sometime stage manager and screenwriter Stone describes a sojourn in the eastern Aegean darkly tinged by recrimination, doubt, and regret.
Perhaps it’s the author’s decision to disguise the exact location of his foray into food service on the Greek island of Patmos, as well as to change the names of pivotal characters, that brings overtones of contrivance to haunt this narrative. In his early 40s, Stone leases a taverna in partnership with the owner for a single summer of fantasy-fulfillment. He’s accompanied by his French wife Danielle, a cipher save for the attributes of sensual beauty coupled with textbook Gallic moral superiority, and their two young children. From there ensues a series of events in which a stereotypical American babe in the woods enraptured by a foreign culture bumps up against the reality of how its actual members live day to day. While Stone is eminently capable of setting the scene and telling a story, he is not a natural humorist. His shtick is to overindulge in self-deprecation while vacillating between idolatry and assassination of supposed Greek national character traits. The author maintains, for example, that if you are a guest in a Greek’s house, “he’ll give you the shirt off his back,” but that if you have done prior business with him, “it’s probably your shirt.” This less-than-subtle approach assures that readers will feel foreboding even as the lights twinkle in the summer night and customers flock in, confirming at least temporarily Stone’s theory that an amateur cook with his expertise could successfully upgrade a typical taverna’s fare. (He includes a few recipes from a menu of mostly familiar Greek dishes, with a couple of eclectic additions like chili con carne.) When the denouement arrives, replete with temptation, betrayal, guilt, and alienation, it lands like a plate of cold moussaka.
Wistful, bittersweet odyssey of a bad business deal.