cover image The Chapel

The Chapel

Michael Downing. Counterpoint (PGW, dist.), $25 (272p) ISBN 978-1-61902-495-3

Fiction and nonfiction author Downing’s (Perfect Agreement) latest work combines art, art history, and Italian allure into a cerebral romance channeling love, loss, and the complexities of emotional closure. Liz Berman, widowed by her husband Mitchell, still mourns the recent loss, though her two adult children refuse to allow the 50-something ex-librarian from New England to dismiss her 35th wedding anniversary, a “month-long Italian adventure” family vacation, which had been planned before his death. To honor the fact that Mitchell had been penning a book on Dante, Liz, somewhat reluctantly, embarks on a grand tour of Padua accentuated by an eccentric gaggle of travelling intellectual artists—including a flirty silver-haired doctor named T, who persuades her to travel further with him instead of returning home, much to the chagrin of her concerned children. Light melodrama plays out against a backdrop of the exquisite scenery of the Arena Chapel, Giotto di Bondone’s famous frescoes, and Italy’s general majesty, which all work their magic on Liz and lull her into a mesmerized state of awe and romantic delusion. Snapping her out of it is a revelation that hits close to home—and reminds her that her real life awaits back in Cambridge, with or without T. Line drawings, photographs, blueprints, and some exceptionally witty prose and banter complement this affecting story which, despite a relatively pat resolution, remains vividly entertaining. (Apr.)