After dinner I sat with Rick Moody and Lance Morrow. Lance quizzed me about Ischia. What brought me to that island? How long have I lived there? I replied that I went there to write a book, and that I've been in residence for more than five years.
"So what is your book about?" Lance asked.
Now, since Lance seemed so genuinely interested--as did Rick for that matter--I suddenly felt emboldened. They'd given me the perfect opening. The devil in me decided in that instant to put on a little rhetorical performance for my eager audience of two.
"Before I get into what my book is about," I said, "I should first mention that by happenstance I read an interesting quote about what makes a novel first rate. And I came across this little gem just this morning in The Paris Review of Fall 1997."
I paused, turned to Rick. "This is, of course, the issue of the Review in which your short story 'The Mansion on the Hill' appears."
Rick looked surprised. So did Lance.
"Anyway," I continued, "the quote is to the effect that for a novel to be first rate it must have a woman with whom one will fall in love, and what's more it must have a happy ending."
"I didn't say that in my story, did I?" Rick said.
I laughed. "No, you didn't. It was cited in another piece in the Review, one written, coincidentally, by an old Italian guy named Aldo Buzzi, the author of 'Journey To The Land of the Flies.'"
Lance looked perplexed. Rick blinked.
"This is just a convoluted way of saying that, following Buzzi's advice on what makes a first rate novel, I intend to describe a woman with whom the reader can fall in love, and of course I'm determined to give the book a happy ending."
The woman in my novel, I told Rick and Lance, is Vittoria, Italian for victory, and she's named after Vittoria Colonna, the famous Renaissance poet who was a friend of Michaelangelo. "Now Vittoria's story is actually based on my girlfriend, Maria. Who grew up in the village of Buonopane on Ischia."
"So you went to Ischia to research her birthplace?" Lance said.
"Exactly. But as it turned out, she wasn't born on Ischia, as she'd always thought. Instead she was born in Naples, and had been given up for adoption by a very famous person."
"A famous person?"
"Yes. She's known all over the world."
"So tell us who she is," Lance said.
"I really shouldn't say because there are some legal issues yet to be resolved. But I shouldn't imagine it will take you long to figure it out."
Lance thought for a moment. Then brightened. "Sophia Loren."
I turned to Rick. "See? Lance is a world class journalist. He pried the secret right out of me!"
Rick shook his head. "This is an incredible story," he said.
"Who was the father?" Lance asked.
"Ah, yes, of course. Marcello Mastroianni."