Annalisse and Dennis seem to be living the American dream until Annalisse’s secret past and the effects of post-traumatic stress syndrome threaten to destroy her family.
This skillfully crafted novel explores the long-term effects of personal tragedy in haunting flashbacks of Annalisse’s former life — flashbacks that are interwoven with a passionate romance and reveal a person entirely different from the woman Dennis thought he married.
But as each revelation increases the emotional gulf between them, Dennis’s investigation of a toxic waster incident ignites the wrath of a former political ally and an industrial firm that will go to any lengths to cover up a shocking crime.
Can Annalisse reconcile her past and present before it’s too late? And can Dennis find a way to save his family and the town they’ve called home?
What causes picture-perfect suburban Oakwood residents, MacKenzie, Roxie, Sara, and Georgia to desert their therapist and fly off to Florence? Answer: A romantic Italian movie that prompts Roxie to ask: “If Italy is so healing and therapeutic what are we doing in Ohio?”
Even Sara, the most duty-bound of the group, finally joins the pact they dub “The Crazy Ladies of Oakwood,” and only a week later, they find themselves in Florence. Embraced by the entire province of Tuscany, each woman becomes entangled in experiences she could never have foretold. Not only do they find the fascinating Italian men that Georgia promised, but new sides to themselves and each other.
Against the glittering background of Florence, their dramas play out:
MacKenzie returns to her student days as an art historian, discarding her identity as the controlling Oakwood charity patron and society hostess. Renewing her acquaintance with the David, she vows to let herself be sculpted rather than trying to sculpt others. MacKenzie finds not only a new talent, but a new man who appreciates it, just as her husband decides to re-enter her life.
Roxie, who has always approached life as a circus, is drawn unwillingly into a passionate romance with a gorgeous Italian professor, Stefano. Her physical response to Stefano taps into lost memories, causing her to literally run from him. Roxie, a quirky and colorful Cubana, senses danger in visions and smells that resurface of a rotting summerhouse behind her Florida home. With his nurturing and passionate love, Stefano helps her to face the “broken piece” inside her.
Sara unveils part of her that no one but her instructors know. She is an extraordinarily talented concert violinist. Normally trapped in the demanding life of an ob-gyn (scripted for her by her Vietnamese immigrant parents), she is temporarily freed. She performs for others for the first time, and experiences unprecedented joy. However, the coping mechanism she used to handle the pressure of her job threatens to destroy her new life.
Georgia, a grieving widow, processes her life without Ben and without her violin career that ended early because of arthritis. Looking for a new passion in life, she finds that satisfaction comes to her in “giving back” to those around her the lessons and knowledge she has learned through her successes and mistakes in La Dolce Vita. Just as her perspective is changing, she reunites with her first love, Arturo, and must make a decision about the direction of her future life.
Though ages have passed since the rebirth called the Renaissance, Florence still inspires change by breathing out its creative mix of energy, beauty, and courage. Where Michelangelo “set free” the David by sculpting a block of marble, each “crazy lady” finds her exterior “Oakwood” self burnished away by new experiences, revealing a new self. This burnishing is not a gentle process, but exuberant Italians help them through it with their all-embracing agape, or unconditional love. Though they do not know it, each of them hungers for agape’s healing power. They discover in it a balm that binds them together and puts them on the road to recovery, the road that is “The Only Way to Paradise.”