My Italian Bulldozer
Do you ever glance at the morning headlines and want to crawl back to bed and pull the covers over your head? That’s often not an option, but since I’m a bookaholic, I reach for a book to tuck into my book bag. There’s at least one author I trust to confront life’s messy challenges head on, without punching somebody out, shooting his mouth off, or maybe even his head. Not that I never read those kinds of books --- I love them when I’m in the mood --- but the go-to guy who can soothe my fevered soul is that sage and entertaining Scottish philosopher, Alexander McCall Smith.
In his latest stand-alone novel, MY ITALIAN BULLDOZER, Smith introduces readers to Paul Stuart, a famous fortyish foodie author, whose editor is breathing down his neck to meet a looming deadline. Paul’s partner of four years has just thrown him over for her personal trainer, and Gloria, his longtime editor, finds him brooding in front of his blank laptop screen. She promptly packs him off to Tuscany, the locale for his latest unfinished manuscript. She arranges everything --- flight, lodging, local transportation --- and puts him on a plane to wine and dine in that idyllic setting. Anything, she says, to bolster his flagging spirits and meet that deadline.
"Smith is the balm to calm the dispirited souls who struggle through our troubled times with grace and poise."
That’s when Murphy’s Law kicks in --- just about anything that could possibly go wrong does. Paul lands in Pisa anticipating a leisurely, scenic three-hour drive to the hilltop town of Montalcino, where he will taste the local cuisine, sip the wine from local wineries, and chat up the natives to put the final touches on his book.
It is tourist season in Tuscany, and the car rental agency has bungled Paul’s reservation. Through a comedy of errors and total loss of what he once thought of as better than adequate Italian, he lands in the local jail for car theft. In desperation, he calls the number on the business card given to him by his seatmate and fan on the flight out of Edinburgh. The passenger knows a guy who has a bulldozer that he won’t be needing for a few weeks, and it’s Paul’s to use. Sprung from the local pokey, Paul gratefully accepts the offer and takes a brief bulldozer driving lesson. Thus begins an engaging tale of traveling through Tuscany in very slow motion.
We long ago fell in love with Smith’s most famous character, Precious Ramotswe, who finesses her way out of sticky situations in the role of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency’s first lady. We’ve followed the precocious Bertie through his troubled relationships with his parents and schoolmates. We’ve been curious about the tangled love lives of the residents of 44 Scotland Street. And I’ve often wondered if the redoubtable philosopher, Isabel Dalhousie, may be Smith’s alter ego as she deals with cantankerous publishers and fellow authors.
When that tired old question “What famous writer (insert profession here --- politician, actor, artist, pop star, ballplayer) would you like to have dinner with?” comes up, I can say without hesitation: Alexander McCall Smith. His innate wisdom, sense of humor, charm and kindness put him at the top of my list. Oh, to sit and sip a smoky Scotch by a crackling fire with that dapper man in his kilt.
Smith is the balm to calm the dispirited souls who struggle through our troubled times with grace and poise. That display of class, that common sense and dignity, that aplomb to look at the broader view of any problem --- even from behind bars in an Italian city jail --- offers just the right touch. Ah, what if our world leaders had that wisdom?
Reviewed by Roz Shea on April 14, 2017
My Italian Bulldozer
- Publication Date: April 4, 2017
- Genres: Fiction
- Hardcover: 240 pages
- Publisher: Pantheon
- ISBN-10: 1101871393
- ISBN-13: 9781101871393