I was twenty-nine-years-old when the Arno flooded its banks on Friday, November 4, 1966. On Tuesday I decided to go to Italy, to offer my services as a humble book conservator, to save whatever could be saved, including myself. The Italians called them "Mud Angels," the young foreigners who came to Florence in 1966 to save the city's treasured art from the Arno's flooded banks. American volunteer Margot Harrington was one of them, finding her niche in the waterlogged library of a Carmelite convent. Within its walls she discovered a priceless Renaissance masterwork: a sensuous volume of sixteen erotic poems and drawings.
On the morning of his 40th birthday, anthropology professor Jackson Jones contemplates his future: Should he go back to Africa, where he did his fieldwork, and live with the Mbuti, or should he marry and settle down in the Midwest, where he now teaches? On the morning of her release from prison, Sunny, who grew up in a snake-handling church in the Little Egypt region of Southern Illinois, rents a garage apartment from Jackson. They become lovers, but they're pulled in different directions.
The Confessions of Frances Godwin is the fictional memoir of a retired high school Latin teacher looking back on a life of trying to do her best amidst transgressions - starting with her affair with Paul, whom she later marries. Now that Paul is dead and she’s retired, Frances Godwin thinks her story is over - but of course the rest of her life is full of surprises, including the truly shocking turn of events that occurs when she takes matters into her own hands after her daughter Stella’s husband grows increasingly abusive.
The Fall of the Sparrow is the story of a family's struggle to heal itself after the violent death of its oldest daughter. At the heart is Alan "Woody" Woodhall, a classics professor at a small mid-western college, whose beloved oldest daughter, Cookie, is killed during a terrorist bombing. Woody finds himself standing in the cemetery where Cookie is buried, convinced that life has taught him all the lessons he has to learn.
The Truth About Death, the title novella of this virtuosic collection, is a masterpiece of sardonic humor that confronts Death head-on and emerges bloody but unbowed. Simon, an undertaker, embalms his own father and faces his own death. Louisa, Simon's mother, makes peace with her husband over his dead body in a cooler in the basement of the funeral home. Simon contemplates the mystery of death over a plate of spaghetti cacio e pepe in Rome with an Italian undertaker.