Thursday, September 13, 2012

Romance Writing: What I Learned From Adriana Trigiani

Although one of my favourite books is Jane Eyre, I don’t read romances very often. I did, however, recently read Adriana Trigiani’s The Shoemaker’s Wife and fell in love with her writing. It had been a while since a romance pulled at my heartstrings, making me swoon over characters and setting. Here are three things Trigiani does exceptionally well in her romance, The Shoemaker’s Wife.

The sympathetic heroine is strong, resourceful, and kind.

Enza comes from a hard-working family who has strong beliefs in angels, Catholic prayer, and honesty. While Enza’s religious beliefs help her through many hardships, particularly emigrating from Italy to America, it is her strong moral compass that is so intriguing, amidst characters at the turn of the 20th Century, who seem to be losing faith in both religion and humanity.

Enza uses what she has to achieve her goals of starting a family, leading an honest life, and relying on her design skills for her livelihood. The relationship she has with Ciro Lazzari, who she meets at her sister’s funeral has never been easy. But it’s with Ciro that Enza is most content, especially later on in America. With Ciro, she finds comfort as he represents her home in Italy.

One of the most memorable pieces of dialogue that Enza says to Ciro:

“And I want—more than anything—to see my sister again. So I’m going to try my best in this life so that I’m sure to see her in the next one. I’m going to work hard, tell the truth, and be of some use to the people who care about me. I’m going to try, anyway.”

To me, this seemingly ordinary dialogue between Enza and Ciro reveals her true character. She is brave, good-natured, smart, and independent, a refreshing mix of qualities in a romance heroine. And it’s this mix of qualities that helps her survive.

Timing is everything and is the intangible, powerful thing that affects romance.

Enza and Ciro meet as young teenagers in the Italian Alps. They share a kiss—Enza’s first—which remains in both of their memories until they both reach America. They reunite in an American hospital shortly after, but the reunion is not satisfying:

“She tried to walk away quickly, but she found that the steps back to her  room were painful for an altogether different reason. There was no doubt: Ciro Lazzari had fallen in love with someone else.”

When Enza is discharged from the hospital, she loses touch with Ciro and tries to forget him. Enza moves to New York City and becomes a respected seamstress for the Opera while Ciro grows to be a talented shoemaker. They reunite again, but it may be too late. That is, at least, what you’re supposed to believe as the reader. Timing has never been favourable for either lover, as it separates them and reunites them, with the reunions so fleeting. Even as the two eventually marry and raise a family, timing once again, interrupts their romance.

Setting fuels romance.

In The Shoemaker’s Wife, the story begins in the Italian Alps, boasting a lush landscape and vivid colours. One of my favourite passages in the book describing the Italian setting is:

“Primavera in the Italian Alps was like a jewelry box opened in sunlight. Clusters of red peonies like ruffles of taffeta framed pale green fields, while white orchids climbed up the glittering graphite mountain walls.”

In these two sentences, Enza describes her home in the mountains, which she continues to long for as she travels to America. Her deep attachment to the majestic beauty of the Italian Alps is moving with the use of poetic and dreamy language.

While the setting in New York differs, romantic imagery continues:

“Trumpet vines cascaded down the drainpipe in shots of bold orange and soft green like fine silk tassels against the freshly pointed coral bricks. Purple hyacinths spilled out of antique white marble Roman urns on either side of the black-lacquered double entrance doors of the Milbank House at 11 West Tenth Street in Greenwich Village.”

At this point, Enza has finally left her awful factory job and terrible living conditions in Hoboken, New Jersey to begin an exciting life in New York. This very house becomes her first real sanctuary away from Italy. It’s one of the first passages that describes beauty and serenity in an American setting, signaling that the romance between Enza and Ciro is not over.

Two Italian peasants meet as teenagers whose destinies continue to intersect throughout their lives. It’s a basic premise, but it’s the sensual imagery, vivid characters, and chaotic timing that unfold a beautiful, moving, and heartbreaking romance.