"Talking about music is like dancing about architecture," goes the famous quote. If that's true, then writing about music must tread an even finer line between the near-impossible and the absurd. But that's exactly the task that Daphne Kalotay (author of RUSSIAN WINTER) has set for herself in her second novel, SIGHT READING, which is set firmly in the competitive, insular and near-incestuous world of classical music, about which Kalotay writes with knowledge and passion. She also vividly demonstrates how --- with at times particularly damaging results --- passion for classical music does not translate into healthy or productive real-world emotions and relationships.
"The characters about which Kalotay writes are deeply flawed, but also talented and fascinating to read about. Whether or not readers have a background in and knowledge of classical music, they'll enjoy spending a brief time in this near-fanatical world --- and they'll be equally glad to leave it to return to their more normal and healthy everyday lives."
Nicholas Elko and his beautiful wife, Hazel, have been living the life of itinerant musicians since their marriage, as Nicholas bounces from European city to European city, taking short-term conducting positions while pursuing his true passion for composition. When, in 1987, the couple lands in Boston with their young daughter, Jessica, what could have been just another temporary appointment turns into a 20-year professional and personal saga that will leave none of them unchanged.
Hazel and Nicholas have, on the surface of things, an ideal marriage. They are both firmly attracted and devoted to one another and to their daughter. And, if Hazel is sometimes lonely when Nicholas has to spend yet another late night at the concert hall or another long weekend at a guest conductor position, she doesn't show it. But when Nicholas settles into Boston while Hazel shuttles back and forth between setting up their new apartment and caring for her ailing father in North Carolina, he finds himself undeniably drawn to a young musician at the conservatory where he teaches, the second-chair first violinist in the orchestra he's conducting.
Nicholas admires Remy's passion, her impetuousness, even her unkempt curly hair that seems like such a contrast to Hazel's manicured perfection. As for Remy, she admires Nicholas's knowledge and insight into music, his intensity, even the ill-fitting tweed sport coat he wears. At first, Nicholas tries to deny his feelings --- after all, he doesn't want to seem a cliché like his colleague Yoni, who always seems to have an eager young conservatory student on his arm (and in his bed). But a moment of crisis just after he's vowed to break things off with Remy instead sends him away from his marriage and into Remy's arms, starting a 20-year relationship that's hardly the stuff of fairy tales. Meanwhile, Hazel also must figure out how to make her way forward alone.
In SIGHT READING, Kalotay writes with both insight and emotion about the characters' passion for music and music-making. From Remy's determination to perfect a difficult cadenza to Nicholas's consuming decades-long attention to his magnum opus, Kalotay illustrates the kind of intensity required to make a career out of music --- as well as the ways in which this obsession wreaks havoc on healthy human relationships. The characters about which Kalotay writes are deeply flawed, but also talented and fascinating to read about. Whether or not readers have a background in and knowledge of classical music, they'll enjoy spending a brief time in this near-fanatical world --- and they'll be equally glad to leave it to return to their more normal and healthy everyday lives.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on May 31, 2013