Author: Dan Simmons
Tor Books / 381 pages / 1 January 2000
You’re sitting in Denny’s on a normal Saturday morning. The pancakes are undercooked. Toxic fumes are rolling over from the smoking section. The waitress has forgotten your table exists — after bringing you unsweet tea. And your mind is on Renaissance Venice. That’s when a book has a grip on you, when the stage is set for high drama and low comedy — Commedia del’ Arte.
The Innamorati draws the reader into a tangle of plots spread wide across an alternate Italy where magic and curses are commonplace. A time when the release from a curse’s grip lies in the centre of a mysterious, ever-changing labyrinth. Where the mystery remains, despite centuries and hundreds of pilgrims, because none of the pilgrims has ever emerged from the maze again.
Eager to enter the labyrinth is a cast of characters ranging from nobility to beggars. As the unmanned gates close at their backs, the pilgrims find themselves separated, paired off with unlikely partners, and facing paths and obstacles that change even as they study the landscape. No matter what their desires, there is a long journey, fraught with danger ahead.
Snyder’s grasp on the play that is her story never falters. She fills the stage with all the characters of traditional Italian theatre: the buffoon, the shyster, the young lovers. Once under the spotlights she allows them free reign to behave as their natures dictate. The pilgrims get themselves in and out of trouble, quarrel, and face certain death. But, that’s all in the play, and never mistake the wild escapades for chaos; Snyder is the Maestra behind the scenes, directing the action.
With a maze as the focal point of the production, it should surprise no one that the plot itself tends toward the multifarious. As new characters introduce themselves, it becomes more difficult to keep the cast straight. At times, I found myself wishing for a playbill or program to recall the particular plight of Giano, Gianlucca, and Gaetano. (Or, perhaps, it is only me that finds the names dizzyingly familiar.)
I’m not ashamed to admit I backtracked a couple times to refresh my memory. No need, though, read only a little further; Snyder has created unique individuals who announce themselves with the first words they speak or the first action they take. You’re not lost — you’re being re-introduced.
The Innamorati is a complex fantasy, woven of lives and the consequences of every decision. It is performed behind the masks we all hang on ourselves and the people we meet; life is so easy when you only see what you expect. Snyder knows the unescapable truth of some assumptions, but issues the challenge to find the unanticipated. A less calm life, certainly, but the only one worth living.