The Song is You/Arthur Phillips: Reflections

Saturday, April 24, 2010

It was in the tiny Appleton-departing plane, flying toward Chicago, here, above the 307-mile-long Lake Michigan, that I decided that I had to find a new book.  I'd read a big national bestseller on the way over and had found myself enormously disheartened; it was so plodding, so textbook researched, so predictable, so grating, and I knew that I'd not write of it here.  What is the point of defrocking a book that millions have loved?  Nothing at all, I've learned, or nothing much.

The B Concourse of O'Hare is huge.  The book selection is not.  Oddly, among the dozen or so predictable titles (I'm not planning on buying Kitty Kelley on Oprah, and I've already read Harry Potter) there was an author, Arthur Phillips, I'd always wanted to read.  I bought his newest, The Song is You.  I finished reading it just now.  This is a national bestseller, too, but it took wing for the right reasons.

Let's begin with Phillips' intelligence, within which each sentence is steeped.  We read, of Phillips, that he was a child actor, a jazz musician, a speechwriter and a five-time Jeopardy! champion.  No one, reading Song, will question those credentials.  This a tale about a rising Irish singer, the brilliant ad-man who pursues her, an Asbergers-like brother with a talent for trivia, and a family broken by the death of a two-year-old son.  Will the singer and the ad man meet, or will they only correspond through the clever games and clues they seem to leave for each other?  Will the ad man and his nearly ex-wife regain their life, after the loss of their son?  Will the Asbergers brother somehow play the role of Cupid?  Will the 8,000-plus songs on the ad-man's iPod teach him anything about what life is, or was, or still could be? And can love be found in a dog park?

It's a deeply meditative novel with a hairpin plot.  It's urgent, but there are no car chases.  It has sentences to die for, because the sentences are so smart.  I'll leave you with a couple of them here.  Buy the book for the rest.

...he wondered if, in her real life, she required a steady diet of recent heartbreak in order to manufacture fresh emotion for her consumers.  She must crave and court pain as a matter of economic necessity.  Two months ago, she was raw and unblended; tonight she was reasonably effective; someday very soon she would be in danger of marbling over into a slick cast impression of herself.  The target was only microns wide, and history's great singers may simply have been those who happened to make a record in the brief time between learning and forgetting how to manage their power.


bermudaonion said...

Wow! I'll have to look for that book - I love the quote you selected.

Beth F said...

This: "in danger of marbling over into a slick cast impression of herself." Wow.

Florinda said...

This was one of the first books I bought for my Kindle, but I haven't read it yet. Your thoughts on it are encouraging me to get around to doing that - I'm glad to know it made such a good impression on you!

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