cover image I Give It to You

I Give It to You

Valerie Martin. Doubleday/Talese, $27.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-38-554639-3

An Italian villa and the family that owns it capture the imagination of an American writer in Martin’s intimate, disquieting latest (after the collection Sea Lovers). In the summer of 1983, novelist and professor Jan Vidor rents a Tuscan apartment in a converted outbuilding at the Villa Chiara. Her landlady is elegant, well-educated Beatrice Salviati Bartolo Doyle. Beatrice and her mother occupy one part of the villa, while cousins Luca and Mimma another. As Jan and Beatrice become friends, Beatrice begins to share family stories. Her grandfather, she recounts, was a wealthy Florence banker named Giacomo Salviati. In 1905, Giacomo’s oldest son, Sandro, refuses to give up the grocer’s daughter he loves, so Giacomo confines Sandro to an insane asylum. After Giacomo dies, Sandro’s brother Marco, an avid Mussolini supporter, squanders much of the family fortune. This family history (including how Sandro was shot by fascists, partisans, or perhaps his own brother) inspires Jan to write a novel about the Salviatis. Martin’s engrossing tale explores relationships among family members and workers over four generations, occasionally in a rambling manner, though the prose remains alluring. Martin’s masterly descriptions of the villa and its gardens are transportive. Evoking the charms and complexities of 20th-century Italy, Martin offers a thought-provoking reflection on writing, friendship, family, and betrayal. (Aug.)