In the title role of director Stephen Frears’s new film, Florence Foster Jenkins, Meryl Streep is more a wonder than ever. Playing a high-society music patron who longs for the operatic limelight but who cannot sing a true note, Streep will split your sides and eardrums even as she rends you in two. Tragedy is wriggling just inside the comic cocoon of this story of a real-life New York City doyenne who, in 1944, at age 76, achieved her lifelong dream of singing at Carnegie Hall—and who brought down the house, though not quite the way she wanted to.

I took the assignment of reviewing Delia Ephron’s new novel, Siracusa, not because I’m a fan of the author’s (this is, in fact, the first book of hers I’ve read) but, because, well, I’ve twice visited Siracusa—the seaside Sicilian city, better known to English speakers as Syracuse, where half the novel is set. I thought maybe reading the book might make me relive my experiences there, which in an unexpected way it did.