It’s March 2003, and the war in Iraq has just begun. Such is the backdrop for Jane Smiley’s new novel, Ten Days in the Hills, a work modeled in part on Boccaccio’s Decameron. Instead of fleeing the plague, however, the ensemble in Smiley’s book is hoping to exist for a short while in a world free of newspapers, television and reports from the front — distant as that front is. They have withdrawn the night after the Academy Awards to the home of a 58-year-old movie director named Max, “a mansion that cascaded down a mountainside in Pacific Palisades, looked across Will Rogers Memorial Park at the Getty Museum, and had five bedrooms, a guesthouse, and a swimming pool down the mountainside (three flights of stairs) that caught the morning sun.” And then there are the gardens. Moreover, this is only the first of two homes — the second so palatial that it makes Max’s place look like a shabby bungalow near LAX — in which the pilgrims will take shelter.
In those mansions, they will tell stories about their lives and their beliefs, and they will forge new friendships and alliances (some sexual, some political).