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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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Review: How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe
By Charles Yu
(Vintage, Paperback, 9780307739452, June 2011, 256pp.)

The Short of It:

Time travel is an entertaining subject in and of itself, but at its core, this book is a collection of moments. Moments of realization, moments of disappointment and moments of loss and regret.

The Rest of It:

Charles is a time machine repairman on Minor Universe 31. Technically, he is like the auto club for time machines. When a machine fails, he travels across time to fix it. But, these “repairs” are often needed because people go back in time to change the past, and that’s something that should never be done. He runs into all types of people, with his robotic dog by his side, but he’s got problems of his own. In a moment of rash judgment, he shoots his future self. Now, THAT’s a problem. To further complicate things, he comes across a book he’s written, a survival guide for living in a science fictional universe. But at the point of discovery, he’s already gone against much of what it recommends.

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe was wonderful but in a totally weird, quirky way. Parts of it were absolutely touching and sweet and parts of were complete mind benders.

It’s really a book about so many things. The relationship between Charles and his family is achingly sad. Charles yearns for so much more, and he doesn’t really understand where things went wrong, so he re-lives moments over and over again in order to gain an understanding. It’s a book about self-discovery, about love and loss but it’s also very funny. There are lots of funny moments to chuckle over.

Fans of science fiction will certainly enjoy this one, but readers who enjoy “what if” scenarios will enjoy this one too. I found myself working stuff out in my head (sort of like what I did when I watched Back to the Future III and thought, wth??)

This was a fun, completely different book. The story was very unique and thoughtful. I’m so glad I read it.

Side Note: I was looking up information on the author and came across this article. Turns out that Yu is a director for the Oscar-winning Digital Domain, a visual effects company. This article also includes Yu’s top ten time travel books. Very interesting.

Source: Borrowed.

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