“New York, Paris, Londonevery grand metropolishas its own irresistible attraction but Rome so swirls with stories of saints and sinners…lovers and fighters, that she compels you towards her, like gravity…. No one leaves her unaltered. Part of you always loves her. This is the place where passions are aroused, senses inflamed, and lovers fall into each other’s arms. It all appears to unfold like magic but I will tell you what really happens…Come with me, if you will, and observe my labors.”
Mark Lamprell's One Summer Day in Rome is an enchanting novel about three couples drawn irresistibly to Rome, narrated by the city itself.
Alice, an art student in New York City, has come to Rome in search of adventure and inspiration before settling down with her steady, safe fiancé. Meg and Alec, busy parents and successful business people from LA, are on a mission to find the holy grail, a certain blue tile that will make their home renovation completebut soon it becomes clear that their marriage needs a makeover as well. Connie and Lizzie are women of a certain age“Sometimes I look at my laughter lines and wonder what on earth could have been that funny”who come from London to scatter the ashes of their beloved husband and brother. Both women are seemingly done with romance, but Rome has other ideas.
Brimming with wit and charm (and gelato), One Summer Day in Rome is the most delicious novel you will read this summer.
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New York, New York
"WOULD YOU TELL ME, PLEASE, WHICH WAY I OUGHT TO GO FROM HERE?" "THAT DEPENDS A GOOD DEAL ON WHERE YOU WANT TO GET TO," SAID THE CAT.
— Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Specks of dust slow-danced in the sunlight streaming through the tall southern windows. Above the old man's head, they tumbled and collided, equal parts chaos and choreography, at once permanent and fleeting. Some moved earthward, but just as many climbed heavenward with no visible means of propulsion. Why don't the laws of gravity apply to them? Alice wondered.
She could hear New York humming and honking beyond her professor's studio, and although she felt reasonably certain that the city was in fact actually there, she had often suspected that another city, very close but obscured by some deficit in her perception, also existed. In that Other World, she could not be judged or derided for being clever or dull because the rules — like the law of gravity currently disproving itself before her very eyes — did not apply. In that place, there simply were no rules. How she longed to go there sometimes.
Professor Stoklinsky looked up and smiled with his eyes, all wild hair and wisdom. She braced herself for him to speak. But he said nothing and returned his attention to her work.
She dreaded this, his scrutiny. He expected so much of her. He treated her as if she were special, and if there was one thing Alice was certain about at the ripe old age of nineteen-almost-twenty, it was that she was not exceptional. She knew this because she had been born into a family of unequivocally exceptional people.
Her mother had been a rising star at the BalletMet in Columbus, Ohio, until she fell through an unsecured trapdoor in the stage floor during a rehearsal of The Nutcracker and shattered thirty-nine of the fifty-two bones in her feet. During her long recuperation, she began to study law and was now managing partner in a prosperous legal firm on Wall Street. Her father, a celebrated ophthalmologist, spent all his spare time in India restoring sight to those who could neither access nor afford proper care. Her older brother followed her father into medicine, had been a Rhodes Scholar, and was currently specializing in renal surgery at the Mayo Clinic. Her younger sister had recently distinguished herself in her freshman year at Harvard by winning the Jacob Wendell Scholarship Prize. Each member of her family effortlessly excelled at most things they did.
Alice, on the other hand, did not. She did not have a grand passion for anything in particular, although it was her habit to carefully observe the hue, saturation, and intensity of color in just about any object that she came across. Her earliest memory was of hiding in her mother's voluminous walk-in closet, arranging the clothes according to their proper place on the visible spectrum. She had begun with the blouses. Purple blouses, violet, blue, green, lime, yellow, cream, orange, red, burgundy. She put the white blouses between the yellow and cream ones, even though, strictly speaking, white was not part of the spectrum. Her mother had been charmed initially, but when Alice repeated the exercise with her siblings' wardrobes, she had her tested to see if she was autistic.
At fourteen, Alice lied about her age and secured a part-time job in a clothing boutique, three shops down from the corner of Eighty-third and Madison. Nadine, the owner of the eponymously named boutique, soon recognized Alice's flair with color, as did her customers, who would always solicit Alice's counsel before making purchases. Nadine even took Alice on a buying trip to the Say Yes to Life, Love, and Style Fashion Week in Chicago. Alice liked being good at something. As her confidence grew, so did her circle of friends.
In her final year of high school, Alice plucked up the courage to ask her new best friend, Manuela, home for dinner. After she had left, her mother observed that Manuela had thick ankles. It was her sole comment about the evening. The next day in the canteen, Manuela performed a highly entertaining monologue about how their feisty friend Alice turned into a mouse at home. Alice rolled her eyes and laughed along, but her cheeks burned bright.
At a cocktail party to celebrate her brother's return from Oxford, a colleague of her mother's mentioned he had seen Alice walking into a shop on Madison Avenue. Alice was on the verge of explaining that she had been working there for almost four years when her mother interjected, telling him that Alice was applying to volunteer as a guide at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which is why she was on the Upper East Side. This was a fabrication — Alice and her mother had discussed the possibility of it once, briefly — but that was all. Alice was about to protest when a steely matriarchal glance silenced her. She nodded impassively, choking on the sudden and certain realization that she was actually a slight embarrassment; that in comparison to the daily activities of the rest of her family, what she was doing was trivial, that therefore she was trivial, that she was letting the side down. It all arrived in one brief but devastating epiphany.
When she handed in her notice a few days later, Nadine pressed Alice to her impressive bosom and cried. Alice had a distant memory of being hugged like this as a child, but she could not place where or when. She finished her final year of school with mediocre grades and did not attend her prom despite having sourced eight yards of Yves Klein blue shot silk fabric for a dress.
On a brief visit home, Alice's father noticed that she was somewhat withdrawn and mentioned this to her mother, who responded by arranging a blind date for their daughter with a young man from her firm who had just been promoted to junior partner. Daniel was ten years older than Alice, a clever litigator with the remnants of a childhood stutter. He had disconcertingly long eyelashes and would have been darkly handsome if not for his unusually large ears. If he's prepared to forgive my red hair, Alice thought, I'm prepared to overlook the ears.
Alice's mother was uncommonly pleased by the match, and Alice could see that Daniel's affection had not only redeemed but elevated her. Basking in the sunshine of her mother's newly dawned approval, Alice realized how cold she had felt without it and was enormously grateful to Daniel as a consequence. When the time came for Alice to embark upon a course of tertiary study, it was Daniel who gently encouraged her to set aside her plans for a degree in fashion design at IED Milan and instead pursue a course at the Parsons School in New York City where they might still see each other every day. Unfortunately, Alice was so nervous that she botched her entrance interview and did not receive the offer of a place. Daniel wanted to sue, but Alice, not wanting to make a fuss, quickly enrolled in a fine arts course at a local college that specialized in 3-D modeling and printing, the principles of which she thought she might later apply to the design and manufacture of clothing.
And so it was, two years later, that Alice had left the warm bed of the loft she shared with Daniel and found herself standing in front of Professor Felix Stoklinsky with her stomach flipping. Once again, the old man looked up from her work. This time, his look demanded some kind of response.
She had submitted three shoe box–sized maquettes as her major work for her second-year sculpture class. With the professor's approval, they would become much larger bronze pieces during her third and final year of study. The first maquette, of a young couple intertwined, suddenly looked like the rip-off of Rodin's The Kiss that it actually was. Alice steadied herself. Now was not the time to panic. She had rehearsed this with Daniel. It was his big idea in the first place. She'd had no clue what to submit as her major work until he had browsed her previous year's efforts and helped her write a list of pros and cons for each piece. Having chosen three figurative sculptures, the next trick, Daniel explained, was to find some concept, some overarching idea, to connect them.
Alice cleared her throat and swept her hand in front of the Rodin maquette, feeling for all the world like a sales model on the Shopping Channel. "Bliss. The first stage. Two people meet. Fall for each other. It's ... bliss," she said.
The professor did not appear to respond. She moved on to the second maquette: two middle-aged lovers, their arms wrapped around each other but their faces turned away, blank. Alice suddenly wondered what on earth had possessed her to suggest this awkwardly realized piece. But she stuck to the plan.
"Doubt. The middle stage," she said. "Euphoria wears off. They have to work at making it work. Jealousy, boredom, disappointments ... fill them with doubt."
The professor nodded. A smile flickered across his face. Clamping both hands behind her back, Alice moved on to the third statue — an old man, his face contorted with pain, held the lifeless body of a woman. Michelangelo's The Pietà with a role swap and postmodern twist. It suddenly seemed so lame. She suppressed her horror and plowed on.
"Loss. The final stage," she said. "One person always loses the other."
"Always?" the professor inquired.
"Always," she said. Either they find another person, or they leave, or one of them ... dies."
"So this is your thesis?" he said. "That love ends badly?"
Alice's stomach appeared to be planning an exit strategy via her mouth. She pursed her lips and nodded.
The professor looked into her pale gray eyes. They were all lovely at this age, but this one was particularly so. She reminded him of a marble-eyed Venus, not quite present, not yet vividly alive the way most of her rambunctious classmates were. Years of experience told him there were fires flickering in her unexplored depths, but he worried that she would never go exploring because there would never be a need; hers was the kind of beauty that opened doors, that would allow her to skim lightly across the top of life for as long as it suited her.
"What are you doing for the vacation?" he suddenly asked.
"I'm ... sorry ...?"
"What are you doing? Where are you going?"
"I ... I don't know."
"I want you to go somewhere different. And I want you to do something ..." The old man grabbed her hands from behind her back. For a beat he held them in his grasp then flung them high above her head. "Something voosh!"
He was smiling kindly at her, but she felt tears sting her eyes. She had disappointed him, too. Well, she was sick of it. She was sick of disappointing people. She was sick of being an idiot. Suddenly Alice knew exactly what she should do and right there and then determined to do it.
In that moment, she believed that the inspiration to go abroad was completely hers. She had no conception that forces greater than her were calling her to Rome — that she had, in fact, been summoned to the eternal city. By me.
NOT EVEN OLD AGE KNOWS HOW TO LOVE DEATH.
— Sophocles, Fragments, Volume 3
The Eiffel Tower trembled and shuddered and began to move down Holland Park Avenue. Lizzie watched from the enormous bay windows of her dead brother's pied-à-terre as a bright-red double-decker bus, on which the poster of Paris was plastered, plowed toward a flock of pigeons. They exploded into the air, scattering to the winds. One particular pigeon shot over the top of a plane tree and headed straight for Lizzie. She reeled back slightly, fearing that it might fly into the glass, but the bird stopped in an elegant flutter and landed on the stone ledge directly in front of her. Lizzie and the pigeon regarded each other, tilting their heads this way and that.
She was not, and never had been, a beauty, but there was nonetheless an irresistible sparkle about gray-haired, seventy-nine-year-old Lizzie Lloyd-James dressed in mourning purple. Okay, she had conceded just this morning, there was no such thing as "mourning purple," but she looked like a cadaver in black, so that was that.
Lizzie addressed the pigeon. "Henry wants to go to Roma." When she spoke, it was with the cut-crystal ring of the British upper class. The bird cocked its head.
Behind, in the dark gleaming room, a woman's voice responded, a trace of the rural west betraying her Bristolian roots, "A Roman sojourn. Something to blow the wind up our skirts."
Lizzie lifted the dog-eared, hand-typed document and angled it toward the light. She searched her pockets before she realized that her reading glasses were hanging on a chain around her neck and put them on, pushing and pulling them up and down her nose until she achieved focus.
"He wants to go to some bridge ..." said Lizzie.
Again, the voice: "Ponte Sant' Angelo."
"Yes, the Bridge with the Angels," said Lizzie, squinting at the document. "According to this, it's where you met."
"Yes, it is," said Constance. "Good God."
Lizzie turned and peered over the top of her glasses to see a bejeweled, blue-veined hand rise from the depths of a wing-backed chair. Leaving the pigeon to his own devices, she crossed the room and placed the document in the hand of her dead brother's wife.
Seventy-eight-year-old Constance Lloyd-James, in contrast to her sister-in-law, had been, and still was, a beauty, despite the recent ravages of grief. She had been born to entrepreneurial working-class parents who had made a fortune redeveloping the Bristol docklands when the floating harbor began to lose its place as a major port for English merchant ships. The money had afforded Constance a tertiary education in London and Rome, while her beauty allowed her to marry "up" into a minor aristocratic family at the beginning of the Swinging Sixties, a time when all levels of society were pretending that social class no longer mattered, even though it really did.
Harnessing her own family's gift for property development, young Constance helped turn the dwindling fortunes of her husband's estate around. As their wealth grew, both husband and wife engaged in a campaign of supporting living British artists by purchasing their works. As a consequence, they now owned a priceless collection of paintings, sculptures, and installations as well as large tracts of London property and a number of organic farms in Devon and Cornwall.
"Are you okay there, girlie?" asked Lizzie. They had called each other "girlie" — she couldn't recall why exactly; perhaps as some ironic prefeminist diminutive? — ever since they had met in their early twenties. Lizzie had instantly liked the bright young beauty. She liked the way her big brother radiated happiness whenever Constance was near, but she especially liked the way her father spluttered his tea into the Wedgwood when Henry announced his intentions to marry her, and she would never forget the consternation on the mother's face. "But she talks like a pirate," she had protested.
Lizzie patted the top of Constance's head and peered into the gloom of the room. She could see her own dim reflection in the vast Venetian mirror hanging over the fireplace, and it did not give her pleasure.
"Who is that old lady?" Lizzie asked the ghost squinting back at her.
"Sometimes I look at my laughter lines and wonder what on earth could have been that funny," said Constance.
Constance hauled herself out of the chair. At once, her reflection appeared next to laughing Lizzie's. Constance frowned.
"What?" asked Lizzie.
"That laugh of yours. Reminds me so much of him," said Constance.
Lizzie took the document back from Constance. "He's very specific about where he wants us to go and what he wants us to do. All a bit odd, really."
"He was an odd man," said Constance plainly.
"That's why we love him."
Lizzie's bottom lip trembled. She turned quickly, hoping Constance might not catch her lapse in decorum. But Constance did.
"Come now, girlie," said Constance briskly. "What's that going to achieve?"
Days later, Henry's driver, Robert, negotiated the dark-blue Jaguar through the roads and roundabouts that surrounded Heathrow like a network of modern moats, delivering Lizzie and Constance to the ramparts of the departure gates. Robert carried Constance's luggage inside, and Constance followed. When a nice young man opened the entry door for Lizzie, she instructed him to follow Robert with her luggage. The young man began to explain that he was a fellow traveler — not an employee of the airport — when Constance shot past her in a panic. Lizzie abandoned the young man and followed.
"What's up, girlie?"
"Henry. I left him in the Jag."
Indeed she had. Henry's ashes had been waiting in a plain brown recyclable cardboard box — his own premortem selection — seat-belted into the front passenger side of the Jaguar. And that is exactly where they found him a few moments later. Robert arrived, mortified that he, too, had not only forgotten his esteemed incinerated employer but left the car unlocked and the box vulnerable to theft. Constance calmed Robert and warmly offered him absolution. They were all nervous. It was a big day. Robert took the liberty of hugging Constance, which Lizzie noted she endured with grace. Next there was a brief and slightly unseemly tussle over who would carry Henry into the terminal. Yes, he was heavy, Constance conceded, but she was perfectly capable of carrying him, thank you, Robert. As soon as he registered the steely pirate in her tone, Robert surrendered the box to Constance.
Excerpted from "One Summer Day in Rome"
Copyright © 2017 Mark Lamprell.
Excerpted by permission of Flatiron Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1. New York, New York,
3. Leonardo da Vinci,
4. All Roads,
5. Saint Christopher and the Vicolo del Polverone,
6. Piazza della Madonna de Monti,
7. Via dei Coronari,
8. The Do-Good Sister of Via Margutta,
9. Ponte Sant'Angelo,
10. Via di San Simone,
11. Hotel San Marco,
13. Arco di Santa Margherita,
14. The Spanish Steps,
15. The Art of the Cappuccini,
16. Santa Barbara dei Librai,
17. Stazione di Roma Termini — Giovanni Paolo II,
18. La Barbuta,
19. Saint Barbara,
21. Arco degli Acetari,
22. Lungotevere Degli Altoviti,
23. Il Piramide and the Dead Protestants,
24. Ending in the Via Marguta,
25. Un Culpo d'Aria,
26. The Angel of Sadness,
27. Leonardo Da Vinci Part Two,
28. The Gravitational Pull of Blue Tiles,
29. The Dream,
Also by Mark Lamprell,
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Absorbing, romantic and incredibly moving! One Summer Day in Rome is a story about love, new love, struggling love, eternal love, and lost love. The story takes place in the time span of one day and takes us into the lives of three couples; Alice and August, university students from different continents who test the idea of love at first sight; Alec and Meg, a middle-aged married couple who've lost that loving feeling; and Constance a heartbroken widow who recently lost her soul mate. The prose is light, humorous and incredibly descriptive. The narration is unconventional. The characters are multi-layered, real and endearing. And the plot is an entertaining mix of emotion, dialogue, humour, hijinks, mishaps, and passion. I have to admit that I wasn't sure what to expect when I started One Summer Day in Rome but it wasn't long before Lamprell not only swept me away to a city he obviously knows and loves and gave me a truly romantic guidebook to all the history, must-see landmarks, culture, lifestyle, and food but also immersed me in a heartfelt, touching story that made me laugh, smile and even cry.