This novel is about a hotel in California that has a fountain at its center, the water from which restores the memories of those who drink from it. The water has some deleterious side effects however, so the restoration of clarity for those with dementia comes with a cost. Robert Gandy, a sculptor by trade, built the hotel for his wife Magdalena, who was born in Tuscany in 1866 but had to escape (for reasons we find out later) when she was seventeen. Along with Juba, another friend from Tuscany, the three took a boat to America and used Robert’s family’s money to build the hotel, which opened in 1887.
The Tuscany Hotel was abandoned after the death of Magdalena six years earlier, but now, in 1946, Robert, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s with intermittent moments of clarity, goes back to the hotel to finish what he considers his life’s work before he dies. Vitto, Robert and Magdalena’s son, who just came home from the war and is suffering from acute PTSD, goes after his father. He is joined by his wife Valerie, their five-year-old son William, and by Juba, who mysteriously knows they are back at the hotel.
The hotel grounds are like a museum, filled with statues of Greek gods and goddesses carved by Robert when he was younger. The walls of the rooms are all painted with pictures from the Renaissance done by Vitto when he was a small child and apparently a child prodigy. Now they all work together to restore the hotel, and Robert puts an ad in the paper declaring that the hotel is reopening. He specifically invited those inflicted with memory loss to come and drink from its magic waters.
The elderly begin flocking to the hotel. They all find their own kind of renewal at the hotel, along with some answers to the secrets that Robert, Magdalena, and Juba had been hiding all those years.
Discussion: The surprising revelations about the mysteries of the hotel did not impress me as well developed, and I found them to be absurd in any event. Also, Vitto’s war memories struck me as over the top and not at all convincing – it seemed as if the author crammed every bad thing that could have happened into this one soldier’s thirteen months at war. The subplot with the newspaper reporter seemed ridiculous as well.
None of the characters were that fleshed out; it felt as if the protagonists’ lives took a back place to relating stories about the Greek gods. This overriding theme, which took up most of the narrative space of the book, was not disclosed in the publisher summary.
One must, however, give credit for the lovely cover for the book.
Published by Thomas Nelson, an imprint of HarperCollins, 2019