A Room with a Bad View

Traveling obviously gives me life and just perpetuates my wanderlust. For book lovers, one of its perks is uninterrupted hours of reading during long flights, especially of books set in your destination. As I embarked on my first Italian holiday, I had two novels in tow, and I was ready to immerse myself in this beautiful land, both physically and in my imagination. Unfortunately, one of those books was a chore to finish.

I had read a Goodreads comment that One Summer Day in Rome had a poor plot but intriguing details about the Roman landscape. At least I knew what I was getting into. The excitement of reading about landmarks and neighborhoods that I was about to or just explored wasn’t enough to bump up this novel’s excitement. I was looking for gelato and ended up with soft serve.

One Summer Day in Rome

Mark Lamprell’s 2017 novel follows three separate stories of characters who all travel to Rome and are, unbeknownst to one another, all connected. Let’s call it a poorly executed version of Love Actually, told from the perspective of The Eternal City, which was a little odd in itself. Alice is a New York City art student who is looking to not play it safe for the first time in her life. Sisters-in-law Constance and Lizzie have reached an older age with their spunk in tact. However, this charisma is challenged when they travel to Rome to scatter the ashes of Constance’s deceased husband. Finally, Meg and Alec are well-to-do middle-age parents who have lost their love for one another. As the book proclaims, Rome is the only thing that could pull them out of the funk.

“This is the place where passions are aroused, senses inflamed, and lovers fall into each other’s arms.” — One Summer Day in Rome

One of my main criticisms for this novel is that the stories are cliché. A rule follower looks for some spontaneity, an estranged couple lacks fire and passion, and a widow needs answers to move on. These overused plots could be improved if they were more fleshed out, but that isn’t possible with three separate ones and in only 260 pages. Having such limitations can force an author to follow clichés in both language and in literary devices.

To me, this flaw reflects more on the book’s editor than the writer. An editor’s job is to fully bring a writer’s ideas and words to fruition, to call out overused phrases, and to ask for more details. This doesn’t happen in One Summer Day in Rome, greatly hindering any potential the book has and making it kitschy.

In addition, the book doesn’t always read like literature. The easiest way for me to decipher my feelings about a book is whether it follows the “show not tell” principle (i.e., The Ninth Hour). I want to learn of a character’s or place’s history and traits through unique dialogue, thoughts, and actions, not through the narrator’s teachings. This style reads like a textbook, and unfortunately One Summer Day in Rome follows it. Take, for example, the book’s explanation of the Spanish Steps:

“The Spanish Steps tumble downhill from the monumental church of Trinità dei Monti into the busy Piazza di Spagna below where Bernini’s pretty boat-shaped Fontana della Barcaccia splashes happily amid the traffic.”

That’s boring. Yes, it uses some nice adjectives, but give me a descriptive verb please. Lamprell uses this technique several times throughout the book, which is disappointing, especially for a place as fascinating as Rome, a place that stands on its own in travel writing.

The best part about this type of fiction is getting wrapped up in the setting. Suddenly, you’re staring out at the expanse of St. Peter’s Basilica, or you’re feeling the breeze whip against your face at the beach. The skyscrapers of New York are towering over you. The only way to properly do these destinations any justice is to show and not tell. Make me feel the power and magic of these places; don’t give me a textbook explanation.

If I had to read a textbook, though, and to be honest, I liked reading textbooks back in the day (#nerdstatus), at least it was about Rome. I did get some enjoyment in pinpointing the various vias and piazzas named in the book that I had just visited and comparing my experiences with the city with the book’s descriptions. Rome is a city of grandeur, history, and beauty, though; therefore, I was severely let down when these characteristics weren’t properly conveyed. Rather than reveling in the words, I raced to start the next book. La dolce vita sadly no more.

“… My beloved Roma, so ancient she is called eternal, the city that has always been and will always be. Assured of her own magnificence, her venerable significance, she does not seek comparison …” One Summer Day in Rome

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