Delia Ephron’s fourth novel, Siracusa, is a dark and lyrical story about longtime friends and lovers tangled in a web of secrets. Alternating Rashomon-like between four first-person points of view, the novel follows two married couples and a 10-year-old girl named Snow on a sun-drenched vacation to Italy. “As the clues pile up, the coming storm is expertly foreshadowed—but when it arrives, it’s utterly surprising,” Kirkus’ reviewer writes. Working Title Films has optioned the book with Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl; American Horror Story) set to direct.
It all began with gelato for Ephron, who was at the end of a vacation in Italy when she heard about a Sicilian town, Noto, that claims to have invented ice cream. “OK so I said, ‘Let’s all go,’ ” laughs Ephron, who freely admits that she’s the sort of traveler who generally eschews historical landmarks for “everything having to do with food.”
“Most people go to the other side of Sicily,” she adds. “I loved that we were going to the Ionian Sea. It just felt so much more exotic.” Ephron read about nearby Siracusa, a lively town that was one of ancient Greece’s most important cities. She visited for two days. “I’m in this total stone paradise,” says Ephron. “And the first day, I thought, ‘This is the most magical place I’ve ever been.’ And the second day I thought, ‘I could go crazy here.’ ”
And with that realization, a novel was born. “It’s all stone, for one thing,” says Ephron of Siracusa. “There are hardly any trees and no grass, because the Romans knocked down everything.” Ephron was moved by the town, which she explains is “raised up above the sea, like a fortress. At some moments it’s so glamorous and at some moments it’s Alcatraz. And I thought, ‘This is such a great place for people to go mad. For things to happen.’ Because it’s powerful.”
Ephron went home to New York and quickly wrote the first 20 pages of the novel. “I knew the title of the book. I knew who the four characters were. I knew a child was on the trip. It poured out of me.”
Ephron, who has written not only novels but screenplays, plays, humor, nonfiction, and books for young adults and children, “wanted to try a darker book.” She knew “something big had to happen in Siracusa, but I just didn’t know what it was going to be.”
Ephron soon realized she’d need to return to Italy, and brought her 23-year-old niece along. Ephron loves research trips in foreign cities, she says, “because you do what your characters do.”
For example, following in the footsteps of her character Finn, a night owl restaurateur, Ephron and her niece went to dive bars late at night. “And one of my characters, Taylor, is obsessed with culture,” says Ephron, “so I went to the Greek Theater and I went immediately to the Caravaggio and every time I passed an exhibit about da Vinci, I would go in.”
While she learned a great deal on her research trips, Ephron says she always knew, in essence, what Siracusa would be about. “I knew it was about marriage and betrayal and deceit,” she says. “I had an absolutely wonderful marriage but there’s not a day that went by that I wasn’t aware of what a perfect neurotic match it was. And I think marriages are that way. The best of marriages are these perfect neurotic fits.”
Amanda Eyre Ward has published five novels and a short story collection.