Last year, I selected Her Fearful Symmetry: A Novel by Audrey Niffenegger as the book of the year. This year, I’m selecting a novel that is just as daring, powerful and unique – American Music by Jane Mendelsohn. A long review of American Music was posted on this site on August 22, 2010. To find that initial review, enter the terms Other Voices, Other Rooms (a tip of the hat to Truman Capote) in the Search It! box on the right and hit enter.
Here is a shorter review that I wrote for Sacramento Book Review:
“He was entering someplace. It seemed to be his life.”
Author Jane Mendelsohn has produced a taut, sui generis story that should be a major contender for novel of the year. The storyline is truly unique: A severely injured Iraq war veteran is treated by a female physical therapist at a U.S. army hospital. As she works on him, she sees and hears stories that radiate from his body – these stories involve events in 1623, 1936 and 1969. What’s the meaning of these past lives, and what is their relationship to each other and to the wounded soldier? The typical reader will want to race through the pages to find the answers.
A love of music is one common factor, from the creation of the modern drum cymbal to one of jazz’s greatest concerts. But this is a story that involves more than just mortal humans and their musical creations, there are ghosts and guardian angels in the mix. Suffice it to say that Mendelsohn brings to life the words of Jackson Browne, “Tracing our steps from the beginning… Trying to understand how our lives had led us there.” There are few writers other than Jane Mendelsohn who would tackle something this brilliant, stunning and divinely thought-provoking.