“This moment --- the beginning of his story --- was one he had rehearsed many times, at least in his head, and he welcomed a familiar weightlessness that allowed him to craft every phrase, to fill each syllable with as much love and nuance as he could --- at least without singing --- as if he were taking the stage for the greatest role in his life.”
As with many great pieces of music, THE METROPOLIS CASE starts slowly and builds to a brilliant crescendo of emotion, ideas and discovery. As it opens, it’s hard not to wonder what a Manhattan lawyer in 2001 has in common with an opera singer in the mid-1900s and a gangling girl in 1960s Pittsburgh. At first, it seems to be music, which assuredly is a thread throughout the book. But how can a young singer in 1851 Paris possibly have any connection to the others? Tristan and Isolde, most definitely, but oh, so much more. Matthew Gallaway layers complex relationships with subtle familiarities as his chapters, graced with cunning titles, flow into a gorgeous composition.
Martin Vallence, 40 years old in 2001, divorced and going through the daily motions of practicing law, starts to wonder about his inability to maintain a relationship. He drinks too much, parties to excess, and experiments with sexual partners, but feels no real purpose. When he got the tickets to a production of Tristan and Isolde, he didn’t realize that Wagner’s dissonant, achingly long opera would touch him in so many ways.
Anna Prus, an up-and-coming opera singer in 1960, one day finds herself the astonished owner of an original manuscript of Tristan and Isolde, a treasure she will carry to the end of her life. Her career turns to teaching when she finds the stage overwhelming. In a stroke of luck, her path crosses that of Maria Sheehan, a rather surly girl from a suburb of Pittsburgh who possesses a rare and beautiful voice. Because of their shared love for music --- and for something else on Anna’s part --- the two form a bond that grows ever stronger with time.
But most intriguing of all is Lucien Marchand, a nine-year-old boy in Paris just starting to sing in 1851. He has a mentor, who showcases his talents and opens doors for him. Through the years, and his own tenacity, Lucien eventually gains fame in the opera world. So when Wagner is finally ready to hear auditions for the premiere of his epic Tristan and Isolde in Munich, Lucien jumps at the chance. It is the part he has been preparing for all his life. The only downside is that it will mean he must be away from his home in Vienna and his beloved Eduard for months. Of course, he cannot miss out on this debut presentation. Following his stellar success, Lucien comes home only to discover that Eduard has slipped into a depression that he cannot recover from. Bereft, Lucien returns to Paris, where he encounters more tragedy and, worse, revolution, for it is a tumultuous time in France’s history. What follows takes him on a fantastic journey across the ocean.
Back in New York City, Martin and Maria have had brief encounters, leaving them bemused and a little mystified. They don’t quite know what to think of one another, but they do have mutual acquaintances and interests. And Anna is the string that brings them together.
All of these characters lose someone dear to them, and each must climb out of the depths of his or her grief to go on. As they do, they learn just how glorious life can be, and how loss can be transformed into a sort of bittersweet reward.
THE METROPOLIS CASE is a huge novel with a stunning story that will not fail to spellbind its readers. It is impossible to convey the beauty of Matthew Gallaway’s words and how they work together to evoke your innermost passions and clench your heart. Prepare for goose bumps of the very best kind.
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on November 3, 2011
The Metropolis Case