I picked up Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes a few weeks ago at a thrift store. I’ve never really had an overwhelming passion to read it, but I figured for $.25, why not? Perhaps it was my lack of initial interest that kept me from falling in love with the book like so many other people, but I did not find it to be overly engaging. The writing itself isn’t bad, once you get past about the first fifty pages. Those first fifty pages are horrible with Mayes either writing in tired clichés and playing up to stereotypes or writing in such an overly pretentious manner that she sounded like a teenager trying too hard to sound smart and deep. I know she can write better than that; she’s an accomplished poet for goodness sakes! So I found it to be very disappointing from the beginning, but I trudged along. Luckily, the writing did get less annoying, but one thing still prickled me. This book was meant to be some sort of memoir about those first few years/holidays spent in Tuscany, so why the hell was it written in present tense? I’m not a big fan of writing that’s in present tense, anyway, but I can usually get over it. In the case of this book, it made no sense.
There is no typical story in this book in that there’s no build-up, climax, or resolution. Nope, it’s just writing that has a definite beginning and then flat lines. Some projects in the book do get accomplished as work on the Tuscan house continues. I found the narratives about the actual house, renovations, and discoveries quite interesting, and it makes sense that the changes are ongoing. Building a home (as opposed to a house) is never done. There should always be a new and exciting project to plan. The food stuffs got a bit pedantic to me. I am not a foodie, and Mediterranean cuisine is one of my least favorite, so I really checked out while reading the descriptions and recipes.
I can see and appreciate the poetic ambiance that this book creates. There are very pleasant and beautiful passages written within its pages, ones that encourage you to take a deep breath and close your eyes and imagine the cool breeze on a hot summer day. It feels like that bit of contentment you have after a hard day’s work. It’s these bits of the book that saved this book from being a flat 2-star to a 2.5-3 Star rating.