Saturday, September 26, 2009

Family Memories

It's a familiar plot line. A traumatic event causes a character to examine his life, dredging up memories of his past in order to come to terms with a tragedy. In the case of Martin Lambert in Dennis McFarland's first novel The Music Room, the event is the suicide of his younger brother Perry. The call comes from the New York police just as Martin is cleaning out his San Francisco apartment and struggling to accept the ending of his marriage. He heads east to try to sort out the reasons his brother chose to end his life.

What follows is Martin's search, both in the past and in the present, to make sense of what has happened. McFarland beautifully describes Martin's memories of his unconventional childhood, fragments that slowly fit together to reveal some of the reasons for the difficulties he and his brother faced as adults. In his search for answers in New York, Martin becomes involved with his late brother's girlfriend as they both look for understanding of Perry's loss in each other.

The two brothers and their father are all musicians, and McFarland's writing often seems to have a musical quality, not just because of the beauty of his prose, but also because of the layered non-linear way that past, present and even Martin's dreams are woven together. Although it may sound relentlessly dark, there are moments of humor and an ending that offers a sort of redemption.

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