Under the Crushing Weight of the Tuscan Sun

Wilson-TheVexingFantasiesofUndertheTuscanSun-690Jason Wilson at The New Yorker:

It was with considerable baggage that I recently revisited “Under the Tuscan Sun” this year, on the occasion of its twentieth anniversary, and discovered that my opinion of the book has grown ever so slightly more generous with age. This is not to say that I found the book free of flaws the second time around. For one, it contains virtually no narrative conflicts; each incident that could potentially cause tension gets resolved within paragraphs or, at most, a few pages. Will the villa’s previous owner sell to Frances and her partner, Ed? Yes, he will. Will a big pile of money needed to make the deal arrive by wire? Several paragraphs later, it does. Frances stubs her toe, to much consternation, and a few lines later Ed applies a Band-Aid. Before Tuscany, Frances used “Williams-Sonoma as a toy store,” but now she has just a few elementary kitchen tools; the dinners she makes are still fabulous. There’s an owl in the window, and Frances is “deathly afraid of birds,” but then she falls asleep and it flies away. (It’s no wonder that the screenwriters who adapted the book inserted several wildly fictionalized plot twists.)

The book also still seems to me full of petty complaints, with talk of “restoration horrors” or a “construction debacle” when, say, there is a delay in the arrival of the sandblaster needed to smooth the exposed wooden beams. Often these grievances are what we would now call humble brags. For instance: “One day we buy two armchairs at a local furniture store. By the time they’re delivered, we realize they’re awkward and the dark paisley fabric rather weird, but we find them sumptuously comfortable, after sitting upright in the garden chairs for weeks.” After the seeming solipsism of such passages, it’s hard to take Mayes seriously when she riffs on futurism, wine, the Etruscans, or D. H. Lawrence, each of which she discusses in meandering middle chapters. Of Lawrence’s “Etruscan Places,” she writes, “Rereading him along the way, I’m struck often with what an ass he was.”

more here.