By: Tom Bisogno Publisher: Atmosphere Press Publication Date: June 6, 2022 ISBN: 978-1639884322 Reviewed by: Carolyn Haley Review Date: July 22, 2022
So many stories about celebrities in the performing arts are rags-to-riches tales followed by crash-and-burn. Sometimes the protagonist rises again, sometimes not. In Siena My Love, the question remains open until the very end.
Michael Ventura, unlike other gifted artists who are “discovered” and thrust into stardom when unprepared, is an ordinary young man with musical talent who works hard, gets lucky, and makes it big by singing the old crooner classics to a new audience around the world. He is remarkably wise throughout his career, “aware of the difference between what happens to me as a celebrity and things that happen in my real life.” His strong boundaries, plus innate sincerity, warmth, and generosity, make him a character to root for.
But like most of us, Michael has an Achilles’ heel that interrupts his progress and sets him back. He’s not derailed by drugs or alcohol, or a terrible early life that twisted his personality; instead, Michael gets lost in grief. When his father dies, and later his wife dies, he turns inward to a black place that isolates him from loved ones. His psychic withdrawals are the only sections in the book where it’s hard to sympathize with him, because he is surrounded by people who love him, reaching out constantly to support him: family, friends, his business team, and a legion of fans. In real life, so many people suffer grief and loss alone, and would give a lot to have what Michael has handed to him on a platter but ignores or rejects.
His biggest blind spot is Sophia, the girl he spends summers with as a child at his grandfather’s vineyard in Italy. They fall in love when too young to understand what it means to be fated for each other. Michael’s grief, followed by the demands of becoming a professional singer, causes him to turn his back on Sophia and they grow apart on different continents.
The bulk of the book chronicles Michael’s life from childhood to adulthood like a coming-of-age novel. It doesn’t turn intense until his grandfather collapses from a heart condition. At that point, Michael’s past, present, and future converge. He drops everything at the peak of his career and chooses family over the limelight—at great cost. But in the process, he rediscovers Sophia, the little girl next door. By then so much has built up between them that they must start anew to find the love they never acknowledged, yet which never left them. Their new relationship forces Michael to choose between making a comeback to the stage or giving life over to his heart. Or…is there a chance that both can merge together into a greater whole?
The dilemma forms the substance of the story. It would be more engaging if the narrative used a higher percentage of “show” versus “tell” style of prose. The story has many opportunities to be emotionally compelling—heartbreak, romance, victory, defeat, life and death—but what readers get are pivotal moments described passively, such as "Michael was in an emotional state" and “Michael was excited for Vanessa.” After such observations, the narrative moves on. On one hand, this leaves readers free to interpret scenarios through their own lens. On the other hand, it makes for a flat presentation of what could be passionate. The portrayal of Michael’s crises from arm’s-length distance jangles with the emotional purpose of the story. Nevertheless, the novel focuses on love in all its forms, and Michael is one of the nicest guys who ever achieved superstardom. Readers will be hard pressed to not fall in love with him themselves.
Quill says: While the prose technique of Siena My Love could be more developed, the story still gives us a sweet saga about how love manifests across generations and among family and strangers, centered around romantic love given a second chance.