Monday, July 19, 2010
I have read a book that held me, moved me, stirred me, awed me, restored and redeemed me—I have read that book. It's called American Music, and by all rights I should have heard about this book since it was released in June; it's been O blessed and New York Times Book Review reviewed, and this is an author (Jane Mendelsohn) with whom many are already familiar, thanks to her debut novel, I was Amelia Earhart. But I didn't know about American Music; I just found it in a bookstore and because I loved Earhart, I brought Music home, after the most cursory glance at the jacket. Mendelsohn is that good.
No. In Music, she is that great. I don't even want to try to explain this book, how it works. I can't imagine wasting a second explaining (all right, the briefest bit of explaining) how the story involves a 21-year-old physical therapist, Honor, and the young Iraq War veteran she begins to treat—her hands on his flesh, her strength in his muscles releasing stories from generations past that both can see and hear, that not he, not she understand for the longest time. Did that just make any sense? It doesn't perhaps, it's not possible, perhaps, but it is utterly convincing and powerful and so well made and by the end it does not matter, because all the fragments of the stories released tell a real and aching larger story, and because every single line of this book is something approximating perfect. You know I love Michael Ondaatje and Colum McCann. Mendelsohn joins that league of writer here, her Honor like Ondaatje's Hannah, her understanding of jazz music and the birth of cymbals and swing on a par with McCann's mastery of gypsy poets, say, or Nureyev ballet.
She pulled down the sheet and touched his back. He listened closely to the music. He heard the scrape of the recording and the piano like rain and the voice lifted above the music like a kite jerking and soaring above the trees.
I said that I don't want to explain. I simply want you to go out and buy this book—buy it and read it and see what literature can be, how a webbing intelligence electrifies and haunts and utterly defines the mood of a day, no matter how hot it is outside, how swampy.
As I write these words, thunder rolls in from some place north. A storm brewing. A prelude to your reading of Music.