"My name is Joanna, after John the Evangelist. I am finally home and it has been a long time since I've worked like this, wrestling with spools of wire. I admit that it is no coincidence that I chose to tackle this job first... I chose the fence line because I want to bake. I want to sweat. Effort will purify me." Whoa! Hello! That's quite a way to meet a new character --- and so begins ALL WE KNOW OF LOVE, a voluptuous first novel by Katie Schneider. A young woman hints at a spiritual revelation that has taken place in this house in which we find her and unravels a strange story about childhood, first love, and the pursuit of art.
Jo Shepherd was raised by her grandfather, and when he becomes terminally ill, he arranges for her to attend college in Washington, where she grew up. When Frank passes away, Jo receives a visit from the Virgin Mary, who tells her to pursue her dream of going to Italy to become an artist. Along the way, Jo bags both Frank's wishes and her childhood sweetheart, Jack. In Florence, she is haunted by her choices, then given something new to think about when two young American expatriates become enamored of her: Chad, a soulful political science avatar and street musician and Walter, the cynic. Jack shows up and takes her back to New York City's Lower East Side, where the young artist finds both her greatest inspiration and a successful career.
ALL WE KNOW OF LOVE blandly combines a lot of really interesting elements, including miraculous visions, grief for the past, and the reawakening power of a dream come true. However, Schneider's prose is too prosaic for this type of rich story --- she even manages to make the treasures of Italy, one of the world's most beautiful countries, seem boring. ALL WE KNOW OF LOVE is a nice try at a novel filled with interesting ideas that fall flat in the maelstrom of made-for-TV-movie plot lines and unlayered characterizations.
Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on January 20, 2011
All We Know of Love