Remember all those Spencer Tracy/Katharine Hepburn movies? Charismatic characters speaking intelligent, witty, funny lines? Of if you can’t remember that far back and haven’t seen the videos, maybe you’ve caught a recent episode of West Wing. In both cases just about every conversation sparkles and the writers treat the viewers like they’re smart enough to get it. The same can be said for Ms. Phillip’s latest. And that’s a very good thing.
Dr. Isabel Favor is a tightly-wound, self-help guru who’s so busy micromanaging her home and life she doesn’t notice that her fiancé has found someone else and her accountant has run off with all her money. When these lapses become fodder for the tabloids she runs away to Italy. Her retreat is anything but the peaceful interlude she’d been hoping for. A disastrous one-night-stand in Florence derails her plans to regroup. He’s landlord of the farmhouse she’s rented in Tuscany. He’s also Hollywood’s most notorious bad-boy actor, Lorenzo Gage.
Ren is attempting a retreat of his own. An ex-girlfriend’s suicide is making him feel lower then the villains he’s played so successfully in films. And he’s hoping to use a break between movies to visit his home in Tuscany to gain the privacy he needs. To say he’s even less thrilled to find Isabel in residence than she is to see him would be an understatement. She’s far too distracting and is a threat to his self-imposed villainous image. To add insult to injury, his ex-wife, who has long since remarried, shows up with her four and 3/4 children. She’s contemplating divorce and has decided to move her family into his villa in the meantime.
Like the characters so frequently played by Tracy and Hepburn, Ms. Phillips’ characters are more then the sum of their parts. Initially Isabel and Ren fall far short of delightful and this gives them a depth that keeps this from being just another contemporary fairy-tale romp. Yes, they share dialogue that is effortlessly delightful, but there’s more to them then witty repartee – much more. To say they are each experiencing a mid-life crisis would be an overstatement. But I could certainly relate to people in their thirties trying to figure out if they’ve made the right choices, and if they haven’t, where they should go and what they should do next. The complexities of life and the choices we make are well examined and Isabel and Ren show believable growth while also falling believably in love.
The strength of this internal exploration is muted by the subplot involving the Tuscan villagers. The machinations as they tried to get rid of Isabel and Ren were amusing, but the payoff for the supporting plot greatly weakened the impact of the personal issues with which Ren and Isabel had to contend. They’re attempting to grow as individuals and as a couple. Diverting the reader’s energy to the continuing quest of the village just wasn’t that interesting and was at times downright frustrating.
Ren and Isabel are facing very real problems once they enter the public sphere again. It’s harder to believe they will be able to deal with the spotlight and the meshing of their very different lives since we’re never shown it. Watching them reenter that world, rather then ending with an all-is-wonderful epilogue would have been a far more interesting and fitting end for this seriously charming book. That said, it’s still a mostly-enjoyable book that SEP fans will appreciate.
|Review Date:||June 12, 2002|
|Book Type:||Contemporary Romance|
|Review Tags:||actor/actress | doctor | Italy|