Clara is a young American woman with the mental age of a ten-year-old. Fabrizio, who lives in Florence where Clara and her mother Margaret are vacationing, falls in love with the American without knowing about this childlike mind. Ineluctably Clara is happy in the young man’s company and Margaret wants this happiness to go on for her. Failing to guide Fabrizio and his family to the truth about Clara, Margaret disconcertedly wants, yet does not want, the marriage between Clara and Fabrizio that will be forthcoming. Her ambivalence ends, however, even in the face of her husband Noel’s disapproval of the relationship.
Margaret is the main character in Elizabeth Spencer’s short novel, The Light in the Piazza (1960), and although a flawed person, she is also a loving mother standing on a precipice for the sake of her daughter. After the marriage has taken place we read, “Her head was spinning and she leaned . . . against the cool stone column.” Did Margaret do the right thing? The disconcertedness exists to the end, and yet Clara is a woman, not a girl, and is being loved by Fabrizio. The novel is about when moral ambiguity leaves us suffering. It is about the dilemmas people incur when another’s deprivation can be halted. Or so they think.
Light is a notable tale which happened to inspire a sophisticated stage musical of the same name. Lucidly written, it is nicely structured and memorably character-driven. . . I’ve read it twice and have not detected a blemish.