Review of ‘Midnight at the Tuscany Hotel’
Kentucky writer James Markert’s latest novel revolves around a hotel where artists, actors, scientists and engineers came to leave their worries behind.
This Southern California-based historical fantasy by James Markert tells the story of a father and son whose family and hotel business are forced apart when father Viggio leaves his family for Italy to serve in WWII. Viggio’s family owned the “Tuscany Hotel” pre-war, and it ran prosperously for many years leading up to the declaration of war that resulted in Viggio’s untimely departure from California. Viggio serves and is able to return to his family back home, where he finds out his father, Robert, is suffering from Alzheimer’s. Markert makes some great parallels between the father’s Alzheimers and the PTSD that Viggio now suffers from as a result of time spent serving in combat.
It is revealed in the second act that Viggio was a talented and imaginative painter before leaving for Italy. Viggio’s talent supposedly runs in the family as Robert was also a talented sculptor during his prime. I sensed a strong historical theme from Market, who was born and still lives in Louisville, Kentucky, bubbling beneath the plot in which both men lose their appreciation and ability to create “art” in a similar manner.
These themes are especially evident in the part of the story where Viggio makes his return to the states. The first interaction Viggio has with his son is a painful one since his son has no memories of his father. This interaction is another example of inspired writing from Markert where he gives us two fathers who are each losing the memory of their child as a result of their health conditions. Markert depicts an accurate and heartbreaking example of a soldier bringing the horrors of war home with him. His portrayal of Robert suffering from Alzheimer’s is painfully moving as well.
Robert escapes one night from the family house and ventures out into the night alone. The family reacts in shock, quickly brainstorming all the locations that Robert could have possibly remembered, and concludes that he must be at the old Tuscany Hotel they used to run before Viggio left for Italy. They arrive to find not only Robert but also Robert’s mind super-sharp after drinking from a fountain found in the hotel. Robert’s memory loss/dementia is now cured, and his recovery story gains attention instantly as crowds of visitors rush to line up and get a sip from the hotel’s supposedly miraculous fountain.
Viggio is tempted to take a drink after viewing his father’s miracle but ultimately decides against it because he feels there could be a hidden cost to taking the sip. Or it could be that the violence and horrors of war have scarred him to the point where he is no longer open to believing in divine miracles. Viggio’s hesitancy and fear are what set him apart from his father. Viggio’s belief that it “can’t be without a catch” may also reflect Markert’s stance on the more generic problem of how PTSD is misdiagnosed or ineffectively treated in suffering patients today.
Midnight at the Tuscany Hotel excels best in both pacing and the emotional impact present in the plot. The author takes an in-depth dive into what it’s like to live with these crippling conditions—and what everyday life can be like for the patient’s family. It is easy to forget that mental health affects both the patient and everyone close to the patient as they learn to cope. Markert lets the reader feel every ounce of pain to convey the struggle of not only PTSD and Alzheimers but all harmful mental conditions.
Midnight at the Tuscany Hotel is one of our Spring Reading Picks.