That's how Elizabeth winds up on a tour better suited to her late husband, a Dante scholar. Mitchell masterminded the itinerary as a surprise for their thirty-fifth wedding anniversary "even though—Surprise!—I would have preferred a week of watching movies in bed with takeout Chinese."
Itching to leave as soon as she arrives in Padua, Elizabeth's efforts to book a ticket home are stymied by her aggressively supportive children, the ministrations of an incomprehensibly Italian hotel staff, and the prospect of forfeiting the sizable chunk of cash she shelled out for the trip. But there are consolations—arugula pizza and ancient arcades and Aperol spritzes in the piazza with her odd-lot of fellow castaways, including a melancholy doctor who claims his name is T.
Instead of deconstructing their disappointing former lives, they are drawn together by their longing to understand how something beautiful is made. They dive headlong into the Arena Chapel, trying to untangle the roles played by Dante, Giotto's famous friend; Enrico Scrovegni, Giotto's patron and Italy's wealthiest moneylender; and Giotto himself, whose frescoes in Padua secured his reputation as the world’s greatest painter. And then one phone call erases everything Elizabeth understands about T. and her future, so she packs up her sorrows and books herself a ticket home.
Tracking the hopes and heartaches and hangovers of a woman with a history of disappearing, The Chapel shows us that happiness is as fragile as a fresco by Giotto.
Michael Downing’s novels include the national bestseller Perfect Agreement, named one of the 10 Best Books of the year by Amazon and Newsday, and Breakfast with Scot, a comedy about two gay men who inadvertently become parents. An American Library Association honor book, Breakfast with Scot was adapted as a movie that premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. His nonfiction includes Shoes Outside the Door: Desire, Devotion, and Excess at San Francisco Zen Center, hailed by the New York Review of Books as a "dramatic and insightful" narrative history of the first Buddhist monastery outside of Asia, and by the Los Angeles Times as "a highly readable book." His essays and reviews appear in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and other periodicals. Michael teaches creative writing at Tufts University. He and his partner have lived together in Cambridge for more than 25 years.
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