Florence in Ecstasy

Jessie Chaffee. Unnamed (PGW, dist.), $16 trade paper (246p) ISBN 978-1-944700-17-1
Chaffee’s debut novel is an unflinching look at a woman’s attempt to outrun her demons through an international escape. At 29, Bostonian Hannah is taking an extended hiatus in Florence after losing her job and boyfriend because of an eating disorder she has yet to confront. The prose is both rich and restrained, eschewing the cliché of melodrama. In Italy, she finds solace in joining a rowing club, through which she meets and begins a relationship with a man named Luca, and cultivates an obsession with female saints, whose pleasure in pain and emptiness mirrors her relationship with eating. For a time, she is able to enjoy her routine, but her past catches up with her when a former coworker shows up in Florence, prompting a flashback to the incident that got her fired in Boston. She starts to lose control, slipping back into the sharp pleasure of starving herself, pushing her toward a long-overdue personal reckoning. Her intimacy with her disorder is convincingly painted like a dysfunctional romantic relationship, sometimes even like an artist with a dangerous muse (“with every bite I didn’t eat, I was creating”). Chaffee treats Hannah’s story with both respect and honesty, displaying not only diligent research but also an emotional intuition that brings Hannah to startling life and makes her story quite moving. (May)
Reviewed on: 03/27/2017
Release date: 05/01/2017
Genre: Fiction
Open Ebook - 240 pages - 978-1-944700-41-6
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