Wednesday, July 27, 2011

REVIEW: The Upright Piano Player, by David Abbott

The Upright Piano Player, by David Abbott. Published 2011 by Random House.

A short novel in the style of Ian McEwan, The Upright Piano Player is the story of one Henry Cage, a man at a crossroads. An elderly executive, he's been pushed out of the company bearing his name; his ex-wife is dying; his children are alienated from him. One night after a party he crosses paths with a very bad man and a series of events unfold that will cause him pain and notoriety. But all this comes before a shocking act of violence narrated at the beginning of the book, involving the tragic death of a child.

The act of violence, its timing and its relation to the other circumstances of Henry's life make up the emotional core of this literary novel. Artful and well-paced, Henry's story unrolls bit by bit; loss and death chase Henry through the streets of London, its caf├ęs and office buildings, and all the way to America. He's attacked and stalked and suffers two heartbreaking deaths. Henry himself is bookish, uptight and not entirely likable, and when presented with alternatives, always seems to make the wrong choice. Abbott, though, always makes the right ones when it comes to his elegant style. Writing about Henry's favorite bookstore, Abbott tells us
The shop seemed to order only books that Henry wanted to read and he quickened his step eager to see what treasures were on the tables. The store was busy and he browsed for half an hour, careful as he moved from one pile of books to another not to hurry the customer next to him. Good manners are a given in bookshops. "I don't suppose you have a copy of..." The tone is invariably considerate. Between a book's covers there may be passion, bile, mayhem, or murder, but in the quiet spaces where it awaits its fate (either acceptance of indifference) all is calm. For Henry, bookshops had always been restorative, and buoyed by his visit he bought Thom Gunn's latest book of poems and left.
Such could also be said of Henry's life- that no matter what chaos rains on him or around him, he remains relatively calm himself. Even his ex-wife's funeral is a straightforward affair with little in the way of emotional demonstration, a stark contrast to the violent outbursts committed by and upon him. It's almost as if these outbursts take the place of the stable emotional life of a healthier person. The Upright Piano Player is a melancholy but nevertheless highly accomplished novel (the author's first) that I strongly recommend to readers of literary fiction. It's also a rather quick read, being highly suspenseful despite the author's composed and mature tone. Even if you don't end up loving Henry, you'll care about him enough to want to see how it all turns out, and you'll relish Abbott's beautiful writing along the way.

Rating: BUY

The Upright Piano Player
by David Abbott
I'm a Powell's partner and receive a small commission on sales.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from the publisher.


joemmama said...

What a good review! I just wanted to let you know you are NOT helping my TBR pile.

Unknown said...

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ImageNations said...

It piqued my interest. thanks Marie

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

Glad u liked this one. All of the reviews have been positive it seems.

R. J. said...

I enjoyed your review but I don't know if I am ready to head into that subject matter. It's great that publishers send you books to review. Great gig. I would read anything if they sent me the book.

bermudaonion said...

This is the second review I've seen of this book and both of them have been glowing. Sounds like a book I need to read.

Anna said...

This is the second review I've seen of this book, and I'm even more curious about it now.

Anna said...

Guess Kathy and I had the same idea! Great minds think alike. ;)

Anonymous said...

beautifully written review, Marie!

I will be sure to read this one. thanks!


Zibilee said...

Even not having read the book, I already feel a little sorry for Henry. I like the sound of this book, and the fact that it is so well written and suspenseful has me wanting to add it to my ever growing list. I like that even though Henry is not exactly sympathetic, Abbott makes his plight easy to relate to, and I just love the quote you provided about the bookshop. So true about the politeness!

suek said...

I read The Upright Piano Player, and I really appreciate what a great job you did with this review. The book is so well written, and I loved it, but sometimes it's hard to explain why. You summed it up!

Kathleen said...

Now this is a quiet novel that really appeals to me.