Am I jealous? Not saying.
The story is told Rashomon-style with four narrators, two couples who vacation together in Sicily’s Siracusa.
In one corner: Michael (a playwright) and Lizzie (a magazine writer), a childless couple.
In the other corner: Finn (a hip chef in Portland Maine) and his wife Taylor (Portland’s events coordinator and publicist); their sylph- and sphinx-like 10-year-old daughter Snow (named because she was born during a snowstorm—Lizzie thinks she’s “wallpaper”) is traveling with them.
It’s compulsively readable, and you know all the while the story, for all its normalcy, is careening toward cataclysm as lie after lie is revealed.
I happen to know that Delia and her husband often traveled with another couple, dear friends (unlike the two couples in the book who mesh only on the surface), but I had to wonder what in her travels inspired Siracusa?
DELIA EPHRON: Siracusa inspired the book. I was there on vacation. It's this falling down place in Sicily on the Ionian Sea and the old section is remarkable. The Romans knocked down all the trees in 212 B.C. to build warships and never replaced then. It's paved with ancient stone, narrow streets, tattered buildings. A stone paradise.
The first day I thought, this is the most magical place I have ever been. The second day, I thought, if I don't get out of here fast I'll go mad.
When I got home I realized it was the perfect place to set a story about marriage, about two couples on vacation careening toward disaster.
Of course then I had to go back and do serious research, which I did, several times.
You are a better more experienced traveler than I am. BUT, travel intensifies everything, doesn't it? Friendships can grow closer or go up on the rocks. The isolation of travel is great if you're feeling romantic and unbearable if you're not. So isolating these couples by putting them on a vacation in a foreign place was perfect for the story I wanted to tell.
HALLIE: And in that “bad hotel?"
DELIA: Truly you never know which your best trips will be. Traveling is unpredictable. And the bad hotel -- it can happen on a vacation -- and for Taylor this is terrible. She blames Lizzie, who made the reservation. But that's just salt in the wound. Other wounds are bigger.
HALLIE: So many of your other works (“You’ve Got Mail” “The Lion is In”) have wonderfully flawed but likeable characters, but in this book the characters are anything but. What was it like making that shift?
DELIA: Very freeing. This is a dark book -- very funny in parts, but wicked. I didn't worry about whether anyone would like Lizzie, Michael, Taylor and Finn. I wanted them only to be real. Interesting and compelling.
So many people have said to me, "I thought I liked, say, Finn, and then I thought, I don't like him at all." As a reader your opinion keep shifting as the betrayals and lies and paybacks mount up. And of course my characters all have opinions of each other and of Snow. The reader discovers that.
HALLIE: One of the most troubling characters in the book is Snow, Taylor and Finn’s daughter. As the mother of daughters I found myself squirming. Where did Snow come from?
DELIA: My wicked brain. Here's the thing: I'm very interested is how attached some mothers are to their daughters -- relationships I've observed where the lines are blurred. Taylor loves her daughter more than her husband, which happens sometimes in marriage. Snow is sphinx-like, as you said, an enigma. Is she shy or is she cunning? Is she manipulating or being manipulated? Should I love her, want to protect her, or fear her?
HALLIE: (That picture of Delia and me was taken before the premier of her movie, "Hanging Up.") Four viewpoints, intertwined and overlapping is so hard to pull off. Perfect for this story, since secrets are its fuel. But did you find it challenging? Did you have to map it out?
DELIA: So difficult. By the time I hit the third quarter of the book, my head was swirling. Who knew what, who didn't, what would be revealed and to whom. I had lists on my wall keeping track. But I don't outline.
I started Lizzie, Michael, Finn and Taylor with problems. Michael is having an affair and Lizzie doesn't know. Finn and Lizzie had a summer fling many years before, and he is feeling shut out of his marriage. So I start them there and, as I write, the story, takes off.
The most important line I wrote early on that gave me guidance, was a line of Lizzie's: "Couples collaborate, hiding even from themselves who is calling the shots and who is along for the ride."
I have an inner compass about plotting. I trust my subconscious to take me where I need to go. I knew something BIG would happen in Siracusa, and one day I realized, Oh that's it. That has to happen. I got so excited.
HALLIE: You’re writing a screenplay now for the book. Are you having to alter the story structure? Whom will we root for??
DELIA: Oh, you need to root. H'mm. I wasn't thinking about that. I'm very excited that Siracusa has been bought for film and that Alfonso Gomez Rejon will direct ("Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl).
With a screenplay, I have to find the movie in the book. Create the visual medium and telescope the story to hold onto its essence. So what is the central current?
Also do I need a Rashomon? Film has other ways of indicating point of view. Do I need to alter the story to make it work better. In film I don't have the luxury of the "inner voice" unless I do voice over.
So all these problems have to be address. Also this is about marriage and friendship -- characters make lots of observations about that. Need to keep that aspect. How?
HALLIE: What an interesting problem. Novels lack the visuals of a movie, but we do have narrative voice.
I'm still mulling Delia's remark:
The first day I thought, this is the most magical place I have ever been. The second day, I thought, if I don't get out of here fast I'll go mad.TODAY'S QUESTION: Have you ever traveled somewhere that left you with that feeling?
Signed copies of Siracusa are available at:Barnes & Noble, Upper West Side, NY
Brookline Booksmith, Brookline, MA
Wellesley Books, Wellesley, MA
RJ Julia, Madison, CT
Diesel Bookstore, Los Angeles
BookCourt, Brooklyn, NY
Politics & Prose - Washington, D
"Delia Ephron’s Siracusa is a stunning portrait of two marriages coming unraveled during the stress of travel abroad. Insightful and engaging. A must read!"—Sue Grafton