All We Know of Love

Katie Schneider, Author Broadway Books $22.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-7679-0408-7
Told with a watery melancholy brightened by flickers of wry humor, this debut novel sends 20-year-old Joanna Shepherd to Florence on behalf of the Virgin Mary. After Joanna's beloved grandfather, Frank--her last living relative, who raised her from the age of four--dies of cancer on their eastern Washington farm, a vision of Mary appears to Joanna in the kitchen, instructing her amid ""an overpowering scent of lilacs... and white light"" to ""go to Europe and become a painter."" Joanna plans her departure quickly, her resolve swayed only by a bittersweet farewell to Jack Pearce, a childhood friend, which sparks ""years of fantasies."" Resolutely, she journeys to Italy, rents a room from an elderly widow, Lena Cabrini, and begins to absorb the magnificent city and its art. Cutting across the Piazza della Repubblica one afternoon, Joanna is drawn by a cellist whose music ""[makes her] want to paint."" The captivating musician, Chad Lesa, turns out to be an American studying at the political science institute, and he introduces her to Walter Haffner, a wealthy student who takes a financial interest in Joanna's artwork. They all form an instant connection, but love complicates the trio's dynamics, as do Joanna's abiding feelings for Jack. Schneider's portrait of an artist is convincing, but the novel's real power is in its landscapes, which are rendered so pungently that they become characters in their own right: the rural Pacific Northwest, Florence's busy streets and squares, the Sistine Chapel on a day trip to Rome. Less believable is the romantic fallout from Italy, which steers Joanna to a stereotypical stint as an artist-bohemian in New York. Though spirituality reenters via a series of paintings, the charming incongruity of the Virgin makes no further appearances. A quicksilver pace precludes development of any character other than Joanna and muddles tricky shifts between time frames. Like Joanna's visitation, the story is a jumble of sensory images, sparked by an eloquent vision without a clear path of resolution. (July)
Reviewed on: 07/03/2000
Release date: 07/01/2000
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 304 pages - 978-0-7679-0409-4
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