Monday, June 29, 2015
Book Review: "Music for Wartime: Stories" by Rebecca Makkai
A reality show producer. A cellist dealing with the presence of a growing shrine on her property. A minister in a town plagued by weather-related issues. A college professor for whom nothing seems to be going right. These are just a few of the characters in Rebecca Makkai's wonderful and intriguing new story collection, Music for Wartime.
Makkai is a tremendously talented author; her first book, The Borrower, was among my favorite books of 2011. I found her storytelling ability dazzling, particularly how she created such memorable characters. That talent was in full bloom in Music for Wartime, which juxtaposes a few stories with Holocaust-related themes or characters with other stories chronicling not-quite-everyday human struggles and foibles.
While not every story of the 17 in the collection worked for me, I was moved and captivated by a large number of them. My favorites included: "Cross," in which a cellist must deal with a growing shrine to an accident victim that is on her property, as well as her feelings about growing older; "The Museum of the Dearly Departed," which chronicles a woman's struggles to come to terms with the death of her fiancé, among other revelations; "Painted Ocean, Painted Ship," a story about how what we perceive isn't always accurate; "Good Saint Anthony Come Around," which chronicled the relationship between two artists, as told by another member of their circle; "The Miracle Years of Little Fork," about a small-town minister dealing with his town's struggles and his own emotional challenges; and "The Worst You Ever Feel," which told the story of a young boy captivated by a concert given by a famed Romanian violinist, and the revelations the boy has about the lives of the violinist and his own father.
For someone who didn't like to read short stories about 20 years ago, I have been fortunate to come across some tremendously beautiful and memorable stories. I'd definitely include some of the stories in Makkai's new collection among some of my favorites. While the book as a whole isn't perfect, it is still a fantastic example of her storytelling ability, and you'll find yourself thinking about some of these characters long after you've finished.