Sunday, September 15, 2013

Sight Reading, by Daphne Kalotay

Sight Reading features a rather mundane plot. Would-be artist Hazel and composer/conductor Nicholas are married and have a little girl Jessie. Then Nicholas has an affair with a student at the Boston conservatory where he is on the faculty and leaves Hazel for Remy, a violinist. Ten years pass and Jessie, on the edge of the teen years, is causing concern for all three of her parents. Hazel is unable to sustain a relationship, convinced that the disorder that is causing her to lose pigmentation is driving men away. Remy has a brief affair with Nicholas's best friend Yoni. Ten years pass and Jessie is engaged, Hazel is happily remarried, and Remy and Nicholas are having problems individually and as a couple. Yoni dies.

Not only is the plot trite, the characters tend toward the disagreeable. Remy is perpetually dissatisfied but can't figure out why. Nicholas is completely unaware of any one else's feelings. And Hazel . . . Hazel is a self-pitying wimp. Twenty years after her divorce from Nicholas and some years into a happy marriage to Robert, she is upset when she learns Remy and Nicholas are having problems because if they break up, her pain and humiliation will have been for nothing. What? Could anything be more pathetic?

So, one might ask why I kept reading, and the answer is that I found the way Kalotay wrote about music and its creation to be both lovely and thought-provoking. If the novel had the complexity and resonance of the music she describes, it would have been much, much better!

Favorite passages:
Ideas [for musical compositions] presented themselves while he showered, while he dreamed, and he accepted them with gratitude, hearing melodies in the hiss of radiators and the dripping of faucets.

She took her violin from its case, tuned the strings, tightened her bow. Closing her eyes, she thought back to the opening bars. Her bow met the string, and soon she found herself among those mysteries she was still trying to understand, those questions still taking shape. Playing from memory always held this quality for her, as if inhabiting a nameless space whose light and shadows became gradually--with each playing--more clear to her. Already she sensed, this time, a leap forward in her comprehension, her playing no longer a matter of mere translation. The music had become a part of her, so that she felt, this time (though tears streaked her cheeks), its meaning.

She felt herself floating within time, the way she often did while playing, that suspension of time that is the peculiar alchemy of music. Just as Nicholas had said on that very first day, twenty years ago. Not just how fast or how slowly the music moves. It's about how fast and slow life moves.

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