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.
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