This is the kind of book that has all the ingredients for a feast you want to eat.
Check. Doesn't get much better than Tuscany.
Yup. A fancy-pants woman is checking her husband's golf shoe for size when a laminated photograph of his "other" family drops out.
But along the way to its destination -- which is both Italy and a place of peace for its career-minded, fortysomething heroine -- this narrative of overseas travel, marital unhappiness and bliss-seeking self-analysis falls flat.
It's like the cake, minus the baking soda. The result isn't good -- and in the end it just doesn't make sense.
Lily Turner, Lynch's heroine, is a career-consumed corporate executive whose big sorrow in life is that she is unable to have children with her husband, Daniel. Not only that, but an adoption the couple had arranged fell through, in a particularly cruel way. And all the time there's Lily's sister, who is fecund and home-sated to the point of caricature, hanging about.
We could forgive the cliche of Lily's characterization, perhaps, if she lifted off the page with sparkling dialogue or fascinating inner drama. But she doesn't. We are reminded of her baby sorrow on every page; indeed, we aren't given a chance to forget it, and neither is Lily.
After she discovers that Daniel, a wine importer, has a second family salted away in the hills of Tuscany, Lily decides to fly over there to surprise him. She does make the trip, but then changes her mind when she becomes entranced by the Italian countryside and its people.
There's Alessandro, the handsome and wealthy widower who owns a Tuscan villa and who lies flat as wallpaper on the page. (It's hard to regret a potential suitor when one was never made to like him in the first place.)
There's a mysterious child that Lily connects with in powerful ways.
And then there's a group of women that function as the novel's saving grace -- a group of elderly widows called the Secret League of Widowed Darners. While they sew and gossip, these harmless-looking ladies try to brew romance for the population of their town.
The old ladies become, by midway through the novel, pretty much the only reason to finish it. Lily, with her sad lot, we get tired of. Daniel never interested us to begin with.
But vixenish 90-year-olds with needles and thread?
Now that's an image you don't come across too often.
Charity Vogel is a News features reporter.
Dolci di Love: A Novel
By Sarah-Kate Lynch
Plume paperback original309 pages, $15