November 2009

All the right moves

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A writing assignment in Buenos Aires comes at the perfect time for Francesca Rivabuona. The sex has gone out of her marriage and the love is at a standstill. She is bored, and there’s nothing like an Argentinean rendezvous to spice up her life. But Francesca gets more than she expected: tango lessons during the day, milongas late at night, a city that embraces her, fast friends who gently tend to her emotions—and an affair with a famous plastic surgeon. What will these 15 days mean when she returns to her husband, George, in New York?

Patrizia Chen’s It Takes Two basks in its Buenos Aires setting. The culture, foods, language and customs are seamlessly juxtaposed with Francesca’s Italian background, each complementing the other. Francesca (along with the reader) becomes fully immersed in the city and its inhabitants, as Chen takes quick detours into the pasts of Francesca’s new friends. Her characters are the caring companions who look you in the eye as you tell a story, rather than planning their next words.

What is lovely about Chen’s novel is that her heroine is not a blond 20-something with a suspiciously senior position at a glossy magazine. She has an appropriate job and lifestyle and feelings that aren't far-fetched for a 55-year-old. And so when she begins a whirlwind affair with Roberto, after George encourages her to find sex outside their marriage, her actions are more easily forgiven. Here is a woman who establishes her own happiness away from her spouse and grown children—a course of action that's necessary to preserve her sanity but seldom pursued by women of a certain age, nor approved by outsiders. Luis, her tango teacher, tells Francesca that for her to dance well, she must imbue the movements with her own personality. Otherwise, he says, it’s as though she’s letting someone else control her movements. Francesca puts herself first, finally, as no one else has, and is pleasurably rewarded.

It Takes Two is an education in the tango’s cultural importance, the Spanish language and the means by which one character can secure her own happiness, unaided.

Katie Lewis writes from Nashville, though her head is in Buenos Aires.

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