Monday, January 10, 2011

Book Review: "The Metropolis Case" by Matthew Gallaway

At first glance, Matthew Gallaway's terrific debut novel, The Metropolis Case, seems to be composed of unrelated but similar stories with one common thread, the Wagner opera Tristan and Isolde. The novel mainly follows four characters from four different periods of time—Lucien, a teenager in 1850s France who dreams of being an opera singer and falling in love; Anna, an opera singer who reaches her career pinnacle performing Isolde in the 1960s and then teaching at Juilliard; Maria, who grows up in 1970s Pittsburgh feeling ostracized until she shares her singing voice with her peers; and Martin, an attorney in post-9/11 New York, who, despite being professionally successful, yearns for connection and meaning in his private life.

The book follows each of these characters through the ups and downs of their lives, and you may begin to wonder whether there is any cohesive thread that will connect them, other than the opera itself. And then the connections come, with some of the plot twists being a bit surprising (at least to me). While the main plot device requires you to suspend your disbelief a bit, it actually worked really well in the context of the story. If I had any criticism of the book, I don't like when books have characters speaking a foreign language but they don't provide a translation for what's being said. However, it doesn't happen too often.

I wasn't sure what to make of the book when it started, although I enjoyed all of the characters a great deal, but the story really hooked me. While opera is the thread that connects everything together, this is more than a book about opera—it's about love and art and the beauty they bring, and the need to forge whatever connections you can whenever you can. I really, really liked this and can't wait to see what Gallaway does in the future!

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