Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: literary fiction
Published by Arcade Publishing on January 3, 2023
Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Bookshop.org, Better World Books
Winner of every major literary award in Taiwan, an elegiac and deceptively quiet novel about love and loss, broken dreams and desolate hearts—and music A widower grieving for his young wife. A piano tuner concealing a lifetime of secrets. An out-of-tune Steinway piano. A journey of self-discovery across time and continents, from a dark apartment in Taipei’s red-light district to snow-clad New York. At the heart of the story is the nameless narrator, the piano tuner. In his forties, he is balding and ugly, a loser by any standard. But he was once a musical prodigy. What betrayal and what heartbreak made him walk away from greatness? Long hailed in Taiwan as a “writer’s writer,” Chiang-Sheng Kuo delivers a stunningly powerful, compact novel in The Piano Tuner. It’s a book of sounds: both of music and of the heart, from Rachmaninoff to Schubert, from Glenn Gould to Sviatoslav Richter, from untapped potential to unrequited love. With a cadence and precision that bring to mind Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice, Kazuo Ishiguro’s Nocturnes, and Yasunari Kawabata’s Snow Country, this short novel may be a portrait of the artist as a “failure,” but it also describes a pursuit of the ultimate beauty in music and in love.
I’ve been caught between two books this week that should not have anything in common – and yet they do. And not just my reaction to both of them. So here you have two short but not so sweet reviews.
The Piano Tuner by Chiang-Sheng Kuo
This is the story of one man, his late wife, her music career and the piano tuner who lovingly tends her pianos. Or at least that’s how it starts, as the man, the widower Lin, is in the throes of dealing with his late wife’s music studio. Which is where he comes upon the aforementioned piano tuner. There’s a reason the book is named for that piano tuner, as it is really his story, told backwards, forwards and sideways, about his life and especially the choices he made to become a tuner of pianos instead of the concert pianist his prodigal talents would have allowed him to be. Through his life, we see both the choices that he let slip away – and the ones that he never believed were truly his to begin with – as well as his acceptance of his role as the trusted person working in the shadows who makes genius possible for others.
Escape Rating C: As the story slips from past to present, and from the piano tuner’s past to the widower’s past, it speaks of both of them interchangeably both the first person and the third person in a way that never allows the reader to be certain who is “I”, that first-person voice, as the narrative continues. It’s a confusion that kept tripping me up and dropping me out of the story, even as I already felt distanced from it by its steeping in classical music and the performance thereof.
Format read: eARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genre: Literary Fiction
Published by on November 14, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop.org
Two events tie together the nine stories in Monic Ductan’s gorgeous the 1920s lynching of Ida Pearl Crawley and the 1980s drowning of a high school basketball player, Lucy Boudreaux. Both forever shape the people and the place of Muscadine, Georgia, in the foothills of Appalachia. The daughters of Muscadine are Black Southern women who are, at times, outcasts due to their race and also estranged from those they love. A remorseful woman tries to connect with the child she gave up for adoption; another, immersed in loneliness, attempts to connect with a violent felon. Two sisters love each other deeply even when they cannot understand one another. A little girl witnessing her father’s slow death realizes her own power and lack thereof. A single woman weathers the excitement—and rigors—of online dating. Covering the last one hundred years, these are stories of people whose voices have been suppressed and erased for too Black women, rural women, Appalachian women, and working-class women. Ductan presents the extraordinary nature of everyday lives in the tradition of Alice Walker, Deesha Philyaw, James McBride, and Dorothy Allison in an engaging, engrossing, and exciting new voice.
Daughters of Muscadine is another book that got derailed by that question of who is “I”. These are linked short stories, all taking place in a small town in northeast Georgia that is part of the Appalachian Region. The stories are linked by two events, the lynching of Pearl Crawley in 1920, and the drowning of Lucy Boudreaux in the 1980s. Both stories are told by one of Pearl’s descendants, as Pearl still haunts the area decades after her death.
The idea that all of the stories in this collection are linked into a sort-of novel is an interesting one, but the execution of that idea fell apart at “I”. Many of the stories are told in that first-person “I” voice, but the possessor of that “I” changes from story to story without explanation. So they didn’t link the way I (there’s that “I” again) expected. Or much at all.
Escape Rating D+: I shouldn’t have picked this up right now, because it won’t be published until November. But more than half of the short stories in this linked collection have been previously published so I don’t feel as bad about that as I otherwise might. But I got lost, over and over, because the speakers seemed to change without much warning and just didn’t link into a whole. I think this just needed something it didn’t have in the way of an introduction to each story to set them into the narrative as a whole. The description in the blurb was awesome, but the book unfortunately did not live up to it.
My two cents and your reading mileage may vary.