cover image When in Rome

When in Rome

Liam Callanan. Dutton, $27 (336p) ISBN 978-0-593-18407-3

Callanan (Paris by the Book) builds a charming story from a woman’s midlife crisis. Claire Murphy, 52, has made a career helping religious institutions sell buildings they can no longer afford. In 2019, she travels to Rome, where her clients, the American Sisters of Saint Gertrude, are debating whether to sell their convent. Claire, who lost her mother as a young girl and was raised by nuns in Milwaukee, had planned to become a nun herself after finishing Yale, but she changed her plans after getting pregnant from a one-night stand and having a daughter, Dorothy. Now, surrounded at the peaceful Rome convent by the vibrant Gertrudans, she again considers joining. In a parallel narrative, Claire’s college friend Marcus Sardeson travels to Rome, intending to propose to Claire, having spent decades as a surrogate father figure to Dorothy. As Marcus builds up his nerve, he teams with Dorothy, now age 29, and Claire’s business partner to stop Claire from becoming a nun. Despite a few plot contrivances—a key passed down by the nuns “in case of emergency” comes in handy during a crisis—Callanan keeps things moving with the question of the convent’s fate hanging over the characters, and carefully outlines Claire’s complicated feelings about her relationships and vocation. This is a delight. Agent: Elisabeth Weed, Book Group. (Mar.)