Women in Sunlight (Mayes)

Women in Sunlight 
Frances Mayes, 2018
Crown/Archetype
448 pp.
ISBN-13:
9780451497666


Summary
By the bestselling author of Under the Tuscan Sun, and written with Frances Mayes’s trademark warmth, heart, and delicious descriptions of place, food, and friendship, Women in Sunlight is the story of four American strangers who bond in Italy and change their lives over the course of an exceptional year.

She watches from her terrazza as the three American women carry their luggage into the stone villa down the hill.

Who are they, and what brings them to this Tuscan village so far from home? An expat herself and with her own unfinished story, she can’t help but question: will they find what they came for?

Kit Raine, an American writer living in Tuscany, is working on a biography of her close friend, a complex woman who continues to cast a shadow on Kit’s own life. Her work is waylaid by the arrival of three women—Julia, Camille, and Susan—all of whom have launched a recent and spontaneous friendship that will uproot them completely and redirect their lives.

Susan, the most adventurous of the three, has enticed them to subvert expectations of staid retirement by taking a lease on a big, beautiful house in Tuscany. Though novices in a foreign culture, their renewed sense of adventure imbues each of them with a bright sense of bravery, a gusto for life, and a fierce determination to thrive.

But how?

With Kit’s friendship and guidance, the three friends launch themselves into Italian life, pursuing passions long-forgotten—and with drastic and unforeseeable results.
 (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—1940
Where—Fitzgerald, Georgia, USA
Education—B.A., University of Florida; M.A., San Francisco
  State University;
Currently—lives in Hillsborough, North Carolina, and Corona, Italy


Frances Mayes is the author of several books about Tuscany. The now-classic Under the Tuscan Sun–which was a New York Times bestseller for more than two and a half years and became a Touchstone movie starring Diane Lane. It was followed by Bella Tuscany and two illustrated books, In Tuscany and Bringing Tuscany Home. She is also the author of the novel, Swan, six books of poetry, The Discovery of Poetry, and her most recent, Under Magnolia: A Southern Memoir (2014). Her books have been translated into more than twenty languages (From the publisher.)

More
Frances Mayes is an American university professor, poet, memoirist, essayist, and novelist. Born in Fitzgerald, Georgia, and raised in south central Georgia, Mayes attended Randolph-Macon Woman's College in Lynchburg, Virginia, and obtained her BA from the University of Florida. In 1975 she earned her MA from San Francisco State University, where she eventually became Professor of Creative Writing, director of The Poetry Center, and chair tof the Department of Creative Writing.

Mayes has published several works of poetry: Climbing Aconcagua (1977), Sunday in Another Country (1977), After Such Pleasures (1979), The Arts of Fire (1982), Hours (1984), and Ex Voto (1995). In 1996 she published the book Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home in Italy. The book is a memoir of Mayes buying, renovating, and living in an abandoned villa in rural Cortona in Tuscany, a region of Italy. It went to Number One on the New York Times Best Seller list and remained on the list for over two years.

In 2003 the film Under the Tuscan Sun was released. Adapted to the screen by director Audrey Wells, the movie was loosely based on Mayes's book. In 1999, Mayes followed this literary success with another international bestseller, Bella Tuscany: The Sweet Life in Italy, and in 2000 with In Tuscany. Mayes's first novel, Swan, was published in 2002. Her memoir, Under Magnolia, about growing up in a Southern family, came out in 2014,

Also a food-and-travel writer, Mayes is the editor of The Best American Travel Writing 2002 and the author of A Year in the World: Journeys of A Passionate Traveller (2006), tales of her and her husband's travels.

Now writing full time, she and her poet husband divide their time between homes in Hillsborough, North Carolina and Cortona, Italy, where she serves as the artist director of the annual Tuscan Sun Festival. (From Wikipedia. Updated 2/21/2014.)



Book Reviews
Even fans of Mayes’s Under the Tuscan Sun may have trouble with her latest, a trifle about three American women who impulsively rent a house in Tuscany for a year.… [F]eels like a movie, but not an especially memorable one.
Publishers Weekly


Fans will be delighted that Mayes again puts them Under the Tuscan Sun, where American writer Kit Raine is now living…. Sun and fun, food and friendship—you can’t go wrong.
Library Journal


The pleasurable descriptions of colors and tastes and various Italian tourist destinations, plus… the handmade paper made by the paper-making character, etc., are enough to keep this party going all year long.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
1. The ingredients, cooking, and eating of food are prominent features of Women in Sunlight. What did you take the descriptions of food to represent? For instance, what is the importance of hospitality and the sharing of meals, and do you see a connection between cooking and other forms of creativity?
 
2. At Susan’s beach house, she and her two new friends, Camille and Julia, discuss the expectation that life should "simplify" with age. Resisting this, they move to Tuscany "where life does not simplify, it complicates" (p. 51). Do you think this vision of Italy is correct? In what ways do their lives become more complex? Does life, in fact, simplify in other ways?
 
3. Susan references a theory that, in dreams, houses and their rooms represent the parts of one’s self. Do you think that the spaces the women occupy reflect the current states of their hearts and minds? How might Villa Assunta in Tuscany speak differently than their houses in America or the living units at Cornwallis Meadows?
 
4. Consider the following passage: "Why, they wonder after family life ended, didn’t more people banish loneliness and live together? Things, they conclude. People can’t part with their stuff, their mother’s stuff, attics and basements full of stuff" (p. 91). How do the women deal with the emotional weight of their things and the history they carry? What might be the importance of learning to "let go" of material possessions?
 
5. What were your first impressions of Susan, Camille, and Julia? What contrasting personality traits do they have, and how might they influence or inspire one another? How are they each stimulated and transformed by life in Italy?
 
6. What is Margaret’s purpose in the narrative? How might her relationship with Kit compare to the friendships among the other women?
 
7. As the women transition to life in Europe, what are the divergences from life in America? Did you notice any cultural gaps between the American women and the Italian locals?

8. Why do you think Julia considers the women innocent when they first arrive in Tuscany? Is this a trait that inevitably comes with traveling to new places? In what moments could you see them lose aspects of this innocence?
 
9. Julia channels her culinary passion and publishing experience into writing Learning Italian, which chronicles her journey of cooking the country’s food and learning its language. Could you read Women in Sunlight as, like Julia’s project becomes, a newcomer’s guide to life in Italy?
 
10. Thinking back on her time in Boulder, Kit remarks that "[t]hough I loved the town, it was not my place in the universe." What, in your view, determines one’s place in the universe? Why is it that we are compelled to return to some places and not others?
 
11. How might Women in Sunlight challenge definitions of "home," or of the family as a nuclear unit? Are we readers encouraged to be more flexible in our understandings of these concepts? Do you find the idea of communal living practiced in Women in Sunlight appealing?
 
12. What did you make of Julia’s tenuous relationship with her daughter, Lizzie, and Wade, her estranged husband? How do you think you would react if placed in Julia’s position?
 
13. As she reconnects with her artistic flair, how does Camille learn to grapple with grief and the death of her husband? What were your interpretations of her "paper doors"?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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