Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Book Review: "American Music" by Jane Mendelsohn

I broke all my own rules when I fell in love with this book. I don't like literary fiction. I don't like books that jump around in time, especially those that hop from character to character. I don't like books with a whole lot of characters to keep track of. Generally I prefer there to be one main storyline with perhaps one or two subtexts. I like books that are in the 400-600 page range.

This book tells six different stories spanning more than four hundred years. Each of the dozen or more characters is involved in more than one of the stories. The book is only 237 pages long.

Those 237 pages are filled with some of the most luminous writing I have read in a long time.

It is raining softly when she emerges onto the street. From a distance, she appears to be marching, silently, through the mist. With her steady gaze and long coat, her faded satchel and heavy boots, she looks both present and ancient. She looks like some beautiful soldier arrived from history.
This second paragraph is both vivid and beautiful. Having finished the book, I see now that this paragraph foreshadows everything that is to come in the novel. The last paragraph sums it up in heartbreakingly beautiful prose. Everything in between is vignettes, narrative versions of bits of music heard from open windows of passing cars.

In this novel prose mimics music -- masterfully. And at the same time, explores themes including (but not limited to) limits of love, the power of the human spirit to heal, and the amazing capacity for people to steal moments of joy even while experiencing pain and sorrow.

1 comment:

  1. What a perceptive review! Makes me want to read it again.