Review: The Upright Piano Player

The Upright Piano Player

The Upright Piano Player
By David Abbott
(Nan A. Talese/Knopf , Hardcover, 9780385534420, June 2011, 272pp.)

The Short of It:

Quietly haunting and tinged with loneliness.  

The Rest of It:

The books that I love are typically quiet books, in that the characters and storyline follow a rather plain, yet interesting path. Domesticity fascinates me. So for this reason I thought I would love The Upright Piano Player. Although parts of it were lovely and beautifully crafted, the narrative structure didn’t work for me.

The story is about Henry Cage. Forced into retirement by his own company, he doesn’t quite know what to do with himself. His wife ends their marriage after having an affair, and his grown son, although “around,” is not on terribly good terms with his father. As Henry struggles to make sense of this new life, a violent encounter with a stranger on New Year’s Eve forces him to make a decision.

This in itself is a lot to deal with but the story opens with a different tragedy and then goes back five years to when he is first retired. Normally, I don’t have a problem with knowing the outcome of a particular situation before reading the story, but this outcome was so bleak, and depressing that as I was reading, it left me feeling hopeless about Henry’s situation.

Plus, I expected the story to at least circle back to the tragedy that it mentioned in the beginning of the book, especially since it had the potential of devastating Henry and his family, but it doesn’t. The decision to “not go there” made it a random tragedy and although events are often random in everyday life, this was too significant to ignore.

As lovely as the writing was, there was no payoff for me. I don’t need a happy ending…I am  not about being perfect, but I didn’t see a point to that tragic opening, and that is what I was thinking about at the end of this novel. There’s no epiphany…no “aha” moment.

As harsh as that might sound, I will absolutely read another novel by Mr. Abbott. The Upright Piano Player is a debut novel for him, and shows a great deal of promise. I look forward to seeing what he writes next.

Source: Borrowed

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17 thoughts on “Review: The Upright Piano Player”

    1. Had the story circled back and had there been some sort of revelation, I think this would have been one of my faves for this year.

  1. I have to say first off that I think you are a wonderful writer and love reading your thoughts on books and such. The cover evokes that feel of loneliness….I wish that the author would’ve given you what you were looking for in terms of a revelation. But as you so eloquently noted this is his debut book and I’m sure the next one will deliver in all aspects!!

  2. Huh, you are the first person I’ve seen who has not gushed about this book. From your description – it does not sound like one I like. I don’t particularly love tragic endings, but I can deal if there is a purpose for them. If not, forget it… just too depressing for no reason.

  3. I have this book but have hesitated in reading it because some other reviews I read made me feel that there wasn’t a purpose to the sadness and tragedy in this book….as you said, there’s no aha moment. I will read it because the little bit that I glanced at, the writing was wonderful. But right now, I’m not in the frame of mind for this book.

    I love the cover and size of the book, too!

    1. This is one of those instances where the writing and the structure can almost be judged separately. Had I gotten that aha moment, this would have been a favorite.

  4. Interesting. I have this book but haven’t read it yet. I too tend to like really quiet books so I will now read this book with some caution. Hopefully I’ll like it a little better!

  5. Every review I’ve read has had something positive to say about this one, and although like most books, not perfect, I definitely want to read this one. Thanks for sharing Ti.

  6. I’ve been seeing this around but not as much as I expected to. There is something in this book that’s intriguing me but I don’t do well if there is no closure at the end. There are books I’ve enjoyed until that last page when everything is thrown open, and I’m not even talking about ambiguous endings, which I don’t mind.

    1. I don’t mind ambiguous endings either. I just didn’t see a point to the way the novel opened. It’s unfortunate too because I was really into that opening storyline.

  7. The structure of the book sounds kind of odd. I don’t know why the author would introduce a tragic situation and then never revisit it.

  8. We don’t need an “aha” moment. Once we are compelled to read the opening tragedy, we have a universal understanding of the magnitude of the loss without yet knowing the main character in any depth. It is so well written that I had to know more about him. I expected to be returned full circle to what happened after the opening scenes. But neither I nor Henry could take another blow from life. It is a wonderful study of life taking its complete toll at the end. Of course, Henry doesn’t deserve it. That’s just it. Our heart aches for him. His story made me wonder about the adage that God doesn’t send us more than we can handle.
    Jim C.

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