American Music/Jane Mendelsohn: Reflections

Monday, July 19, 2010

Sometimes all I want to do is run up and down the street, and then to the mall and through the mall, and then to the beach and across the whole of the coastal shore, and then through an airport (among all those airport-bookstore-book toting readers) and then across an ocean to proclaim, I have just read the perfect book. 

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.


Melissa said...

Onto the list it goes! Sounds wonderful!

KFP said...

Beth: I feel exactly, the same way when I finish a stunning and luminously well-written book, where words and story and ideas mesh into something true and transformative. The ones that are on my top ten favorite books of all time list (Slant of Sun is there). I just want to jump up and down and run and shout and shake people and say " Pay attention! Read this!. Whether fiction or non-fiction, adult or children's book.

I loved I was Amelia Earhart. I hear you. American Music has been added to my must-read list, as are so many of your recommendations, (but isn't it so wonderful also when we do find books on our own, serendipitously and magically, as if they jump in our arms and tell us themselves it is something we must read?) Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I'm persuaded, Beth. It's on my list.

Beth F said...

Ummm okay! I love this kind of enthusiasm.

Amy said...

Wow! What a glowing review!

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