Midori Snyder,
The Innamorati
(Tor, 1998)

Midori Snyder turns to Renaissance Italy for the setting for The Innamorati, a lush, enchanting tale with more twists and turns in the plot than the maze at the novel's center.

They come to the city Labirinto from all over Italy, bringing to its maze their curses, sins and sorrows. Not everyone is admitted through the heavy wooden gates, and no one knows who will be chosen, or why. Snyder tells the story of a group of those who do.

Among them are Anna Forsetti, a maskmaker whose work has lain fallow for years, and by her 16-year-old daughter Mirabella, who has grimly accepted as her lot the task of taking care of the day-to-day details. Roberto, Anna's patron, follows them there, hoping to win Anna's heart.

Simonetta, a woman who became a prostitute after losing her family, is another sojourner to the maze; although she originally wanted to rid herself of the curse of aging, she finds herself fleeing for her life. She is followed by Rinaldo, a swordsman cursed to love violence but who loves and hates Simonetta equally well.

Fabrizio is an actor with a stutter, and he accompanies Erminia, a siren who has lost her voice and her home and hopes to regain it in the maze. While on land, she resembles a rough goatherd; only in the sea is her true form revealed.

From Labirinto itself the maze draws in Zizola, a beggar girl; Giano, a rogue who is also servant to Lorenzo, a poet turned lawyer. The stories of all the pilgrims become intertwined as they negotiate the mysterious and magical maze.

Central to the plot are the characters of the Commedia dell'Arte theater such as Panteleone, the doddering buffoon, the pedantic Il Dottore, Arlecchino the fool, braggart Il Capitaine and others. All of these characters are portrayed through the use of masks which provide the characters and the actors with a kind of "signature." The only characters who go unmasked are the Lovers -- the Innamorati.

Snyder uses this device with remarkable effectiveness. Masks and mysteries and secrets abound; the characters sometimes wear real masks, sometimes imaginary ones imposed by the individual: Lorenzo assumes the mask of the dry scribing lawyer at the violent death of his wife, one of the sources of his poetry, while Anna's work is blighted by the outcome of a love affair. Only when they strip away the emotional masks and confront the world with naked faces can they all unravel the riddle of the maze.

The novel is complex and multi-layered. Nothing is as simple as it seems, and events are constantly overlapping and entwining, although they are never forced to do so -- it is as if Snyder cast a handful of seed into fertile ground and allowed them simply to grow. The many layers of the plot are mirrored in the identities of the characters as they make their way to the maze's core as well as to their inner core. For all its complexity, however, the plot never lags, and Snyder maintains the suspense expertly.

Snyder's writing is a feast for the senses. Whether describing the food, the sensations of sea water on skin, the stink of sewage in the streets and everything in between, Snyder creates vivid sensory images without overwriting. The novel is frankly sensual -- few authors can write as erotically as Snyder -- as well as scatological, but nothing is gratuitous.

I am hesitant to claim that there is such a thing as the perfect book, but this one comes pretty close. Like good food and good sex, The Innamorati satisfies the reader on all levels.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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