I have a special love for Diane Lane. Despite our age difference, the characters she chooses to play in movies have always spoke to me. I connect much more with a Diane Lane character than I ever could to a Kate Hudson character or a Brittany Murphy character. At age twenty-one, my divorce recently finalized, I would watch Diane Lane play any number of divorcees and I would feel a kinship. At age twenty-eight, my divorce well behind me, I still can't help but love the woman who helped get me through. So when I saw the book version of Under the Tuscan Sun, I pounced on it.
The funny thing though? (And this really isn't that surprising considering the usual muddling of plot and detail in move adaptations) The book is nothing at all like the movie. For starters, the author, Frances Mayes, does not move to Bramasole in the aftermath of her divorce. In fact, she actively seeks a summer home in Tuscany with her current life partner, a man named Ed. There is no pregnant lesbian bestie. Her daughter comes out for several visits though. (In the movie, she had no children.) Those are just some of the major differences.
Very quickly, I gave up my movie-notion of things and just let the text take me where it wanted to go. It took me to a great many places, describing in poetic detail the beauty that was there. I heard a love for the land enacted in this book. I saw a glimpse of history, culture, life, and most importantly, food.
Yes, my readers, the book version is an homage to Italian cooking. It is equal parts travelogue and food-writing, with a bit of home demolition thrown in. (Boy can I relate to home demolition.) There are whole chapters dedicated to sharing recipes. While I'm not sure my Cleveland ingredients could measure up to the Italian stuff listed, I might try my hand at one or two of them, just to see if the food really is as delicious as Frances Mayes makes it out to be.
I missed Diane Lane in the pages of Under the Tuscan Sun, but I was introduced to a world worth exploring. There were a few times when the author goes into her rich Southern upbringing, with several mentions of a cook and the privilege that comes with it, and while her writing celebrates the land and the people on a grand scale, some of her descriptions of the local peasant life seemed a bit condescending, though it was never not loving in its renditions. Still, these particular issues I noted while reading were few in number and I was willing to overlook them for the story and the exploration, the excitement and the language. I was not disappointed (pregnant lesbians aside). It's hardly the book's fault that Diane Lane wasn't there.