”Midnight at the Tuscany Hotel,” by James Markert. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2019. 368 pages, $16.99 (paperback).
The Tuscany Hotel was created and run by the famous sculptor Robert Gandy and his wife, Magdalena. Artists of all types came from across the world to create a new masterpiece, and be surrounded by the lore and creativity of the hotel. However, tragic circumstances force Robert to close the hotel, and for his family to move. Vittorio Gandy returns home, after 12 months at war, and is haunted by the horrors. He no longer paints, his son doesn’t remember him, and his wife is afraid of how he has changed. Most terrifying of all, however, is his father, who is being taken by Alzheimer’s.
After an earthquake, Robert runs away into the night, and they find him in the one place they know he remembers – The Tuscany Hotel. Once found, they discover that Robert’s memories have returned, and that the fountain at the hotel can restore memories. The hotel is reopened, and reawakened, as many flock there to regain their memories. Vitto wants to save himself, but as he learns more about his mother’s life, and her death, he wonders what price one pays for drinking the water.
My first book of Markert’s was “All Things Bright and Strange,” which I truly loved. When “What Blooms from Dust” came out, I eagerly read a copy, and Markert has yet to disappoint in his ability to take history, life and fantasy and weave them together. “Midnight at the Tuscany Hotel” is no exception; the creative way that Markert takes tales and stories we know and weaves them into something new will keep me reading all of his novels. There are always elements that help ground the story into reality, yet they seamlessly fit into a world with just a bit of fantastical elements to it. In his new novel, it’s the idea of how memory works and whether or not it would be possible to remember things that happened before you were born.
Markert’s writing itself includes beautiful descriptions and stories. Often there are one or two plots involved, and together they weave in and out to create a tale stronger as a result. Here we have the past of Vitto’s parents shaping what is happening in the future, and Vitto’s own issues of dealing with his memories in war. Concentration camps, death and destruction are all given a vivid retelling as Vitto remembers his worst moments. Those memories, however, battle with the beautiful ones of the hotel, and of his wife, of his mother and the Greek myths she told him as bedtime stories.
A large portion of this book deals with one of the main character’s experiences in the war. Vitto served for only 13 months, and yet during that time he saw many tragedies and horrors. Upon coming back, he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (then not known as such), and has to figure out how to handle his own memories mostly on his own. He meets a friend at the VA Hospital dealing with the same issues. Together, their journeys through the memories and consequences of their actions are shared, and they grow to understand one another, becoming friends. Markert captures a soldier dealing with PTSD very well, including how it affects his return and his family.
Most of this novel takes place in the Tuscany Hotel, which was built and created by the main character’s father and mother. It is a place of rebirth and art, and one that I wish I could visit in real life. The idea of it is wonderful – where artists of all kinds are welcomed to create and blossom, to hone their arts and enjoy the time to do so. Paintings and statues litter the landscape, the walls and ceilings, and those who visit usually leave a piece of art behind of their own. I hope someone might take this idea and go with it!
As in all of Markert’s books, family and friendship play a large role in the storyline. Vitto is trying to understand how he has changed since the war, and reconnect with his son (who does not remember him) and his wife (who is afraid of him). Vitto’s parents themselves weave in and out of the story, as we see flashbacks to Magdalena’s childhood (his mother), and when she met his father. The flashbacks themselves give us more depth to Vitto’s story, and also allow us to see what is happening within the story instead of just being told in large quantities what had caused his mother’s death.
Even though this is taking place in the past, what the characters are dealing with is easy to connect with. We all have lost our muse at one point or another. Many of us know someone dealing with memory loss, or Alzheimer’s. Perhaps even sadder is that many of us have seen those affected by PTSD and how it also affects families and communities. This book brings home many issues that we are currently dealing with in our own time, in a way that makes it relatable and gives you pause to think. It helps us remember what about life is really important and how much we should appreciate the time that we have with our loved ones.
The Greek mythology that comes up again and again in the art and in the bedtime stories makes the story even more enjoyable (if you like Greek myths, that is). Markert delivers a wonderful ending, and without spoilers, all I can say is that the Last Call story his mother tells is one of my favorite twist endings of any story. I fully want to believe it was all real, and to agree that perhaps we had Greek myths walking among us in this story.
James Markert lives with his wife and two children in Louisville. He has a history degree from the University of Louisville and won an IPPY Award for “The Requiem Rose,” which was later published as “A White Wind Blew,” a story of redemption in a 1929 tuberculosis sanatorium, where a faith-tested doctor uses music therapy to heal the patients. Learn more on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter: @JamesMarkert. For news and updates visit his website: www.jamesmarkert.com
Reviewed by Fallon Willoughby, FYE Instructor, SKYCTC.