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The Chapel

A Novel

List Price: $16.95

May 10, 2016 | Paperback | 6 x 9, 304 Pages | ISBN 9781619027404
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“Downing’s latest work combines art, art history, and Italian allure into a cerebral romance channeling love, loss, and the complexities of emotional closure... vividly entertaining.” —Publishers Weekly

Recently widowed, unhappily stuck on a pricey whiplash tour of Italy, Elizabeth Berman comes face to face with the first documented painting of a teardrop in human history, and in the presence of that tearful mother, and the arresting company of the renowned and anonymous women painted by Giotto in the Arena Chapel, she wakes up to the possibility that she is not lost.

Mitchell left me everything, just as he promised. “Everything,” he liked to say during his last month on the sofa, “everything will be yours,” as if it wasn’t yet. I was left with that and two adult children who could not tolerate my sitting in my home by myself—admittedly, rather too often in a capacious pink flannel nightgown and the green cardigan Mitchell was wearing on the afternoon he died.

That’s how Elizabeth winds up on a tour better suited to her late-husband, a Dante scholar. Mitchell masterminded the itinerary as a surprise for their thirty-fifth wedding anniversary.

Itching to leave as soon as she arrives in Padua, Elizabeth’s efforts to book a ticket home are stymied by her aggressively supportive children, the ministrations of an incomprehensibly Italian hotel staff, and the prospect of forfeiting the sizable chunk of cash she shelled out for the trip. But there are consolations—arugula pizza and ancient arcades and Aperol spritzes in the piazza with her odd lot of fellow castaways.

Instead of deconstructing their disappointing former lives, they are drawn together by their longing to understand how something beautiful is made. They dive headlong into the Arena Chapel, trying to untangle Giotto himself, whose frescoes in Padua secured his reputation as the world’s greatest painter.

Michael Downing has devised a divine romantic comedy. Tracking the hopes and heartaches and hangovers of a woman with a history of disappearing, The Chapel shows us that happiness is as fragile as a fresco by Giotto.

MICHAEL DOWNING’s novels include the national bestseller Perfect Agreement, named one of the 10 Best Books of the year by Amazon and Newsday, and Breakfast with Scot, a comedy about two gay men who inadvertently become parents. An American Library Association honor book, Breakfast with Scot was adapted as a movie that premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. His nonfiction includes Shoes Outside the Door: Desire, Devotion, and Excess at San Francisco Zen Center, hailed by the New York Review of Books as a “dramatic and insightful” narrative history of the first Buddhist monastery outside of Asia, and by the Los Angeles Times as “a highly readable book.” His essays and reviews appear in the New York TimesWashington PostWall Street Journal, and other periodicals. Michael teaches creative writing at Tufts University. He and his partner have lived together in Cambridge for more than 25 years.

Praise

“Downing’s latest work combines art, art history, and Italian allure into a cerebral romance channeling love, loss, and the complexities of emotional closure… Line drawings, photographs, blueprints, and some exceptionally witty prose and banter complement this affecting story… vividly entertaining.” —Publishers Weekly

“Clever, acerbic Liz is both terse and obliquely flirtatious with the many men she meets who tend, surprisingly, to be voluble, kindly and sometimes sexy… playful and erudite.” —Kirkus

“Downing’s rich descriptions of the chapel in Padua and fastidious art lectures are reminiscent of the work of Dan Brown, but the mysteries here are mostly of the heart. This story of life after loss delivers equal measures of history and hope.” —Booklist

The Chapel is a rich and rewarding novel, by turns comic, thoughtful, nostalgic, and exuberant. I only put it down to browse airfares to Italy.” —Valerie Martin, bestselling author of Italian Hours and Property

“It’s moving, funny, and memorable: a tale of the baggage we all travel with, a portrait of grief and regeneration, and a bittersweet love story in which the beloved is a 700-year-old work of art.” —Joan Wickersham, bestselling author of The News from Spain and The Suicide Index

“There are art lessons, history lessons, and life lessons here, and the amazing and original thing is how all the entanglements sustain the possibility of romance. Downing gives us a witty female narrator with the smarts to make us trust her story. It’s bumper cars with biscotti and Prosecco.” —Dennis McFarland, bestselling author of Nostalgia and The Music Room

“At last, a love story for adults – wrapped in a sophisticated mystery about art, religion and the fragility of the human heart.” —Elizabeth Benedict, bestselling author of Almost and The Practice of Deceit

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