Art restorer Emily Price has spent her entire life trying to fix things, from her directionless younger sister to the priceless art she works to preserve. A new project for her insurance firm takes her to Atlanta, where she meets Joseph Vassallo, who also works in her field. He introduces her to his younger brother Benito (Ben), and sparks begin to fly. Soon Emily finds herself helping to breathe new life in to a restaurant owned by Ben and Joseph’s aunt and uncle, and falling hopelessly in love with Ben. Emily has always been the picture of responsibility, which is part of the reason that everyone is shocked by her decision to accept a quick marriage proposal from Ben and return to Italy with him.
But what follows is not the fairy tale that either of them imagined. Ben’s father Lucio’s health is failing, and his mother Donata is anything but welcoming to Emily. Despite doing all that she can to attempt to fit in with Ben’s family, she is unable to find a rhythm in Italy. She buries herself in her own heart, hoping to create something of her own rather than restoring the work of others. As she begins to open herself up, Lucio asks her to take on a special project at their local church. But as Emily works on this special assignment for Lucio, she begins to uncover dark Vassallo family secrets, secrets that drove Joseph to America and a seemingly permanent wedge in their family. Will Emily’s meddling help the family to come back together, or will her presence make everything worse.
Katherine Reay weaves an interesting and compelling story of love and family in her most recent work, A Portrait of Emily Price. It’s no coincidence that Reay mentions Jane Austen’s novel Emma within these pages, as Emily often personifies Emma in her insistence on striving to fix the problems of her new family, often with disastrous results.
Despite the problems in this family, we are reminded throughout this work of the importance of forgiveness and grace. Emily so desires to bring restoration, but it is really Lucio that starts that process. His character is one of my favorites within this novel, as he wishes to mend fences and restore his family to what it once was. He is also very accepting of his new daughter-in-law, despite her short courtship with his son. And it is Emily’s painting of Lucio that she begins to find her own talent and ability to capture life in her art.
I will say that while I devoured Reay’s other works, I had a hard time getting through portions of this one. Ben and Emily’s relationship was incredibly rushed, and I think neither of them really knew or understood each other before they went to Italy. It was difficult to believe that two newly married, virtual strangers could overcome the obstacles they faced upon their arrival. But somehow, they overcame it all, which of course was a desirable outcome. I also felt that the ending of the novel was rushed, after building up the characters. I wanted to learn more about where they were heading, and the conclusion just wasn’t that satisfying to me. All of that said, Reay really does transport readers to Italy, and make them feel that they are walking down those beautiful streets with the Vassallo family. If you’re a fan of Katherine Reay, you’re sure to enjoy her latest book!
Meg lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, Ryan. Library professional by day, freelance writer by night, Meg writes about life, entertainment and everything in between.
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