Picks and Pans Review: A Stopover in Venice

updated 09/01/2008 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/01/2008 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Kathryn Walker

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An actress divorced from folk singer James Taylor, Walker tells the tale of an unhappy musician's wife in this rambling roman á clef. Nel, her alter ego, is a smart, sexy, malcontent invisible to her narcissistic husband. She goes AWOL in romantic Venice while her moody spouse, Antony ("a black hole into whom I've disappeared"), is on tour in Europe. Walker's labored plot involves Nel's idyll at the home of a contessa who links her with a charming art expert; while reviving her sexually, he discovers her true worth. There's a racy, voyeuristic quality to some of Walker's best observations, particularly when she allows Nel to crack open the door to her former life. When not performing onstage, she writes, Antony "shut down like a folded tent"; in conversation, he "was the entrée, I was the condiment"; and behind his indifference lurked a steely anger. "Sometimes when I would go through a door," Nel remembers, "Antony would stand aside and make a courteous little bow.... As I passed by I felt a cold shiver of hostility that made me want to hit him." Emotional truth: It beats tepid fiction every time.

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