Together, Something New
The Renaissance Club
by Rachel Dacus
Fiery Seas, 2018
reviewed by Seana Graham
May Gold is a college adjunct who, thanks to the generosity of her older and more established boyfriend Darren, finds herself in the company of the Renaissance Club, a group of scholars who are touring Italy in pursuit of their passion for Renaissance art and culture. They’ve hired George St. James as their guide. But George is not just a guide through space. For a few like May, he’s also a guide through time.
Although May is gaga for all things Bernini, she’s also seriously worried about her academic career, so being around the very people who can help her or hinder her in it, not to mention some brewing romantic problems with Darren, makes this something other than a relaxed vacation. But May soon finds that under the heady influence of Rome, she’s able to travel back in time to meet her beloved Gianlorenzo Bernini and slowly develops a relationship with the multifaceted artist.
Eva Manookian, head of the Art and Art History department of her college (and seemingly May’s nemesis), is struggling to rediscover meaning in her own life after the death of her adult daughter. May’s friend Sandra, a young woman like herself, has abandoned the tour altogether, determined to make a life as a writer for herself in Rome and challenging May to do the same. The task for all three women is to the find both the path and the means to live a creative life.
Traditionally, the muse is feminine, but certainly if you allow time travel into a novel, you can throw in a few male muses. Bernini and Michelangelo (who appears to Eva) encourage their protégés in very different ways. But, crusty or kind, they are essential to the two women as each tries to figure out how best to live her life and express her own unique vision.
Time travel tales generally fall into one of two categories. There are those which are interested in the scientific possibilities of the whole idea, often relying on some machine to make it happen, like H.G. Well’s time machine, or the DeLorean of Back to the Future. Then there’s the other kind, which sidesteps the whole issue and just shows it happening. James Gleick, in his recent book Time Travel tries to get us to grow up and accept that it just isn’t physically possible. He has studied the situation far more extensively than I ever could, so I suspect we have to believe him. And yet, in the world of the imagination, as he himself concedes, skeptics don’t have the final word. If Bernini could step out from the pages of this novel and speak to Gleick, he might explain as he does to May in an intimate moment:
“We’re something new…Together, something new.”
(Be sure to look out for Escape Into Life‘s upcoming April poetry feature, where you can read some of Rachel Dacus’s poems as well!)
Seana Graham is the book review editor at Escape Into Life. She also reviews for the biography website Simply Charly. She attempts to keep up with her various blogs, including Confessions of Ignorance, where she tries to learn a little bit more about the many things she does not know. You can find links to many of her short stories at her blog Story Dump. She has co-authored a trivia book about her native Southern California. The forthcoming Akashic title, Santa Cruz Noir, features a story of hers about the city in which she currently resides.
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