“Beautifully balanced...Wrenching and beautifully written...A dreamlike, gorgeously watery novel.” San Francisco Chronicle
“Elegant, melancholy...absorbing.” Time Out New York
“Intriguing...flows with stylistic brilliance.” The Baltimore Sun
“Highly controlled lushness...in the manner of Michael Cunningham's The Hours...Ambitious, complex, challengingly intellectual--and yet Alison manages it all with a clarity, learnedness, and rigor that brings into being a creation of real beauty...A real achievement.” Kirkus Reviews (starred)
“[An] intricate, elegant second novel.” The New York Times Book Review
Lovers part, strangers meet and fall in love, ambitions turn to desperation, hopes are betrayed, promises sundered and-in two cities slowly sinking into the sea-new beginnings blossom. The fulcrum of this novel is Oswaldo, a frail, elderly, and very rich Venetian. He funds a foundation that gives grants to artists. One recipient, Anton, a struggling architect nearing 40, reluctantly leaves his wife in New Orleans and goes to Venice on a grant to teach architecture. In Manhattan, artist Lach abandons his lover, Vera, and flees to Venice for a romantic rendezvous. But Vera has won a prize from Oswaldo's foundation, so she also embarks for Italy. Meanwhile, Max quits London for New Orleans, ostensibly to accept a chair in the History of Food, but primarily to woo Lucinde, an events planner. As soon as Max arrives, however, Lucinde flies to Venice to stay with Oswaldo, an old mentor of hers. Alison (The Love Artist) interweaves their stories in quick segues, each vignette succeeding the other like mounting waves in "the heedless sea." The narrative is suffused with sensuous references to art, architecture, food and the atmosphere-damp, moldy, mildewy-of both cities. Each of the characters is emotionally unmoored as well as physically in transit. The reader learns about each of them incrementally from the observations of the other characters; Shakespearean misunderstandings occur and suspense gathers. Alison's poetic sensibility reveals itself in lyrical, intense prose and surprising juxtapositions. Each character's feverish thoughts rise to a crescendo of emotional turmoil and release, and in the process, carry the reader on a sinuous journey of discovery. (Apr.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
New Orleans architect Anton and his wife, Josephine, are going to extraordinary lengths to get pregnant. He must go to Venice for several weeks, but his contribution is in test tubes. Meanwhile, Josephine has a misunderstood encounter with Max, who left London to be in New Orleans with the elusive Lucinde. Lucinde travels to Venice, where she serves as companion to the elderly and wealthy Oswaldo, who wants to build himself an architectural monument in his waning days, so he hires Anton. In New York, talented artist Vera has just been dumped by Lach, who flies to Venice to be with his new love, Francesca. When Vera wins a prize to paint in Venice, she is commissioned by Oswaldo to do his portrait; thus, she crosses paths with Anton. Yes, you must pay close attention to the intricate plot. But in her second novel (after The Love-Artist), Alison wonderfully captures the romantically stymied antics of smart people who lack the emotional grit needed to figure out the relationship they are in before drifting on to the next. Their fluid, eroding liaisons run parallel to the watery decay of both New Orleans and Venice. Fans of Hugo and Dickens will gobble this up. Recommended for larger libraries.-Beth E. Andersen, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Readers of Alison's wondrous bringing to life of Ovid (The Love-Artist, 2001) will find here the same highly controlled lushness in a contemporary story that starts slowly but gains power. In the manner of Michael Cunningham's The Hours, with its now-famous homage to Mrs. Dalloway, Alison's story follows sets of characters whose lives parallel, cross, sometimes touch one another. The sheer variety of people at the start can be frustrating: It isn't always simple to remember who's who as aging art patron Oswaldo wakes up in Venice; cook and food scholar Max leaves London for New Orleans to take up a university post but, more, to court the sensuous but elusive set-designer Lucinde; as artist Lach, in New York, breaks up with artist Vera-and then, for separate reasons, both go to Venice (where Vera will become old Oswaldo's portraitist); and as young and struggling architect Anton also heads for Venice, leaving behind his intellectually brilliant but almost intolerably sensitive wife, Josephine, just as she's resorting to a fertility doctor's unpleasant regimen-abdominal injections, for example-in a last despairing attempt to get pregnant. Alison's imagery (as in the Metamorphoses itself) is the imagery of change, erosion, disappearance, and loss, as both Venice and New Orleans, cities on the sea, sink slowly, becoming more and more permeated with water. Josephine, in fact, is a researcher of the great river, the dynamics of its assault on the city-while Anton, in Venice, will get (and lose) the chance to build a villa on the water for Oswald. Much, indeed, will be lost, drowned, eroded, and washed away before the close-the last of many fetuses; one adult life; numerous hopes and ambitionsboth artistic and romantic, intellectual and emotional, even historic. Ambitious, complex, challengingly intellectual-and yet Alison manages it all with a clarity, learnedness, and rigor that bring into being a creation of real beauty, albeit also of sorrow. Hers is a real and significant attempt, and a real achievement.