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Authors: Valerie Martin

Italian Fever

BOOK: Italian Fever
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Italian Fever

“Martin captures what it’s like to be an American woman in Italy. Forget those myths of romance and mystery. What Lucy finds far more valuable are friendship and the discovery of artistic treasures and Italian cuisine.”

USA Today

Italian Fever
slyly dismantles its own satire and casts a long mysterious shadow over everything that has come before.”

The New Yorker

“Martin’s … gifts are evident in her strong delineation of a not-as-sensible-as-she-seems heroine and a poignant portrait of a mediocre … novelist whose final manuscript stumbles into something approximating art.”


“Taut, honed, and surprising.”

—Frances Mayes, author of
Under the Tuscan Sun

“A rich literary stew.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“Martin goes head-to-head with some big names (Henry James, E. M. Forster) and comes up aces.… A heart-stopping, expert, and entirely contemporary novel.”

—Ann Arensberg, author of

“Sophisticated … elegant, honest, devilishly witty.”

Hartford Courant

Italian Fever
is a spectacular book—skillfully designed, wildly imaginative, with a startling mix of playful, romantic, and nightmarish confrontations.”

—Joanna Scott, author of

“Intriguing … both literal and metaphorical.”

The Orlando Sentinel

“Graceful and gently amusing.”


Italian Fever
is a pleasure that sticks to and tickles the ribs.”

—Katherine Dunn, author of
Geek Love

“Captivating.… In this smart, taut tale, Valerie Martin has captured the spirit of a place, merged it into a seamless narrative, and reminded us of the power of art to alter our lives. A beautifully written, compelling novel.”

—Mary Morris, author of
Nothing to Declare

Italian Fever

Valerie Martin is the author of six novels and two collections of short fiction, including
The Great Divorce
Mary Reilly
. She lived in Rome for three years and currently resides in upstate New York.


Set in Motion
A Recent Martyr
The Consolation of Nature
Mary Reilly
The Great Divorce


Copyright © 1999 by Valerie Martin

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American copyright conventions. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.
Originally published in hardcover in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, in 1999.

Vintage is a registered trademark and Vintage Contemporaries and colophon are trademarks of Random House, Inc.

The Library of Congress has cataloged the Knopf edition as follows:

Italian fever : a novel / Valerie Martin. —1st ed.
p. cm.
I. Title
PS3563.A7295I83 1999

eISBN: 978-0-307-83385-3

Author photograph © Jerry Bauer



For Antonella Centaro and Sergio Perroni,
generous Italian friends who
resemble no one in this book


“Let her go to Italy!” he cried. “Let her meddle with what she doesn’t understand!”

—E. M. F
Where Angels Fear to Tread



About the Author

Other Books by This Author

Title Page





Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22



his writing table rubbing his tired, itching eyes with clenched fists. A pad of paper lay between his elbows; a capped pen rested upon it. A cube of ice floating in a tumbler of bourbon gave a startling crack. The cool night air moving softly through the open window lifted the edge of the paper, then let it fall again. DV cursed, added her name, gave up rubbing his eyes, and rested his chin in his palms, gazing wearily out at the blue-black sky.

Once nothing had been easier. Now, night after night he sat like this between his former allies, the paper and the bourbon, waiting for a sentence to come to him, but nothing came. He took up the glass dutifully and swallowed the bourbon without tasting it, but he could feel it, the delicate adjustment in his consciousness, the muddling of his reflexes, the easing of his pain. He was still holding the glass to his lips when he heard the distinctive and familiar sound of gravel crunching underfoot
on the drive outside. Two steps, then a pause, then another step.

He was on his feet, on the staircase, stumbling but quick, across the living room to the front door, which he threw open easily, for it was not locked. The man was there at the end of the drive, looking back at the house. He carried a rifle propped against his shoulder, but his posture was relaxed, not stiff; there was nothing soldierly about him. DV stepped out past the trellis that shaded the doorway. He wanted to be seen. “Wait,” he said. His own voice mocked him. The word was useless, of course. He searched his memory for the proper substitute. “
,” he added.

But the man had turned away and was disappearing from the feet up as he plunged down the slope into the olive grove. In a moment he would be gone. “Not this time, buddy,” DV said, hurling himself out across the drive. He could see his quarry moving away, though it was dark and there was a mist rising from the damp earth beneath the trees. Again he called out, “
” and gave what chase he could. He had drunk too much. He could feel the dulling effects of the alcohol in his movements, the increased potential for losing some elementary contest with gravity. The man paused, looked back, then went on, ever downward, through the silvery trees. “He wants me to follow him,” DV muttered, stumbling against a tree root and righting himself with a grasp at a passing branch. The ground was leveling out. They had come in a wide semicircle, for just ahead was the long, low wall that hid the villa from view. The man hurried alongside this wall, then abruptly turned toward the road. DV knew where they were now; he could see the lights from the windows of his landlord’s cottage. The gate to the villa was ahead, guarding the Cini mansion, where the others were even now, doubtless, brooding and plotting against
him. As he hurried past the gate, he glanced through the iron filigree, but all was darkness beyond. The cypress-lined lane curved away into the mist, like something from a movie or a dream, at once alluring and menacing. The man with the rifle had crossed the road and struck out into a plowed field. DV followed his quarry, but his thoughts circled the figure of the Cini grandson, his world-weary smile as he flicked open his lighter, his unctuous “Allow me,” the oily, confidential way he inclined his head over her shoulder as he brought the little flame down to light her cigarette. No, DV thought, as his shoes sank in the soft mud of the field, there was nothing like the Cini family in America. Thank God for that.

It was hard going in the field. To keep his shoes from becoming bogged in the mud, he had to keep moving, so he adopted a kind of high-stepping jog, which was tiring but effective. There was a low fence at the far side; he could see the man leaning his rifle against it, then squatting to squeeze between the cross poles. He looked back, taking up his rifle, and DV, floundering in the mud, had a sudden humiliating vision of himself as a helpless and amusing target. The man was wearing a soft old-fashioned hat with a wide brim, not at all the sort of headgear one expected to see in the countryside, and as he turned away, he touched the edge with his thumb in a gesture that looked like a greeting. Then he stepped down—there was evidently a sharp decline at the edge of the field—and, shouldering his rifle, continued on his way.

By the time DV got to the fence, the man was nearly out of sight. There was a dry dirt road on the other side. He clambered down to it eagerly and stood for a moment stomping the mud from his shoes. His exertions had left him warm and nearly sober. He was able to consider the question of whether it was wise to continue his pursuit. He didn’t know the road;
there was no telling where he might end up, how difficult the return would be. But going back now meant struggling through the muddy field. If he went along the road, he might find an easier route. As if to confirm this hope, he saw the diminishing figure of the man turning off toward the right, back toward the villa. He broke into an uneven trot. It was a relief to run on the hard-packed roadbed. He had lost sight of the man but didn’t doubt that he would come into view again around the bend just ahead. But when he got there, to his surprise, the road forked and the man was nowhere in sight. DV stopped, bemused and breathless, and stood looking this way and that through the steam of his own breath upon the cool night air. One road led uphill, curving back the way he had come; the other went down, disappearing into a patch of low bushes and trees. He peered into the darkness, detecting some motion, a flash of white, which must surely be the man with the rifle. As he hurried along this low road, it crossed his mind, in some distant, half-conscious, inaccessible way, that if the man had been wearing anything white, he would have noticed it before now. The road narrowed steadily until the bushes on either side caught at the cuffs of his pants, but he pressed on. Soon there was only a thin path, so encroached upon by the surrounding vegetation that he was forced to look down to find his way. The ground was going up now; the path twisted, first right, then left, until he was not certain in which direction he was headed. There was no sign of the man with the rifle. DV lumbered on, but he was moving slowly. As he stumbled over a tree root, his fatigue and frustration surfaced in a string of low curses. He stopped again, looking behind, then ahead. Did he really have to turn back, retrace his steps and struggle across the wretched field again? The air was heavy; gradually, he became aware of a sickish odor, something more pungent
than decaying vegetation. He would go a little farther, he decided; then, if the path continued impracticable, he would go back.

BOOK: Italian Fever
6.83Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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