cover image Women in Sunlight

Women in Sunlight

Frances Mayes. Crown, $27 (448p) ISBN 978-0-451-49766-6

Even fans of Mayes’s Under the Tuscan Sun may have trouble with her latest, a trifle about three American women who impulsively rent a house in Tuscany for a year. They meet while touring a North Carolina retirement community: Camille, 69, and 64-year-old Susan are widows, and Julia is separated from her spouse at 59. Their new neighbors in San Rocco are expats—noted writer Kit and her longtime partner Colin have lived there for a decade. Not every day in Italy is halcyon, but it often feels that way: everyone becomes great friends and the women age like Benjamin Button. Even Kit, unable to have a baby and certainly not trying, gets pregnant. Camille, who was once a promising painter, experiences an artistic renaissance in scenes that are among the book’s most intriguing, but her instant success undercuts their power. Susan and Julia also forge innovative new careers. All the magical light that brightens Mayes’s Tuscany has the effect of canceling the shadows that might fall on her characters in a more realistic or layered story. The effect is a book that feels like a movie, but not an especially memorable one. (Apr.)