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Simon Silber: Works for Solo Piano Hardcover – May 15, 2002

4.5 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A cranky, curmudgeonly composer is the ostensible protagonist of this hilarious debut novel, a sendup of classical music conventions that begins when the obscure Simon Silber convinces his new biographer, first-person narrator Norman Fayreweather Jr. to elevate Silber's musical status by chronicling his career as if he were already famous. Fayreweather quickly discovers that his subject comes with a veritable armada of artistic personality quirks but, unfortunately, Silber's talent is basically a mirage. First-time novelist Miller plows through a wonderfully silly discography of Silber's output with Silber "composing" works based on transcribed notes from a neighbor's wind chimes, the notation pattern formed by crows perched on power lines and the tones generated by a Touch-Tone phone. The compulsive composer is also obsessed with what kind of musician gets to play his work, having restricted all his writing to the keyboard so that no one can misinterpret such unusual titles as "Sudden Noises from Inanimate Objects," "Digressions" and a work he "steals" from his equally squirrelly biographer called "Aphorisms." The catty give-and-take between biographer and subject offers plenty of over-the-top passages as Miller fires off one classical potshot after another, particularly when he delves into Silber's troubled relationship with his evil twin, Scooter. Miller pulls off the tricky conceit of having the discography double as the narrative line, although the construct gets pretty messy when he enters the chapters describing Silber's decline. There are also some clunkers in the barrage of humor, but given the high hit rate, classical music aficionados will find much to smile about in this diabolical parody-cum-satire. Author tour. (May 15)Forecast: The droll cover is a clever indication of this novel's iconoclastic humor, but it remains to be seen whether its audience will spread beyond the Bach and Beethoven crowd.

Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* As classical music lovers well know, the notes to multiple-CD sets can rival small-city phone directories in size; it often seems one has bought a book as well as a recording. Miller japes on that phenomenon by giving us the notes without the recording, and that is just the first joke at the expense of avant-garde classical music in this comic novel as thoroughly, unmaliciously wacky as anything since P. G. Wodehouse. Simon Silber, raised in isolation according to the program his wealthy father devised to make him the greatest pianist of his generation, hired Norman Fayrewether Jr. to write his official biography, portraying him in his fallback role as the greatest American composer. Norman, who at 37 has never resolved his own problems with frustrated ambition (stomping away from academic stardom, he was a surly library aide for 15 years; then his mother died, and he was let go because she had secretly funded his salary), obliged but also dug the dirt for a tell-all that, because it was unlikely to find a publisher (after all, who else ever heard of Silber?), devolved into these notes. Each "chapter" ostensibly annotates a Silber opus, and each immediately digresses to chronicle Silber's strangeness, Norman's counterstrangeness, and the further strangenesses of the nebbishes Norman encounters while researching Silber's idiotic life. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (May 15, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 061814336X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618143368
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,274,819 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By David Scott Goen on June 21, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This book contains a plethora of very funny ideas, but is not directed towards a general reading public. Rather, this book will appeal most to two groups of people: those who find modern music of the Cage-kind pretentious and preposterous; and those who are fed up with biographies that seem to be more about the biographer than the subject. And, just maybe, I should add a third category: people [messed] up for life because of the ... theories and thinking of their parents.
While I fit into the above categories, I found myself laughing more at the situations described in this book after I read it. In others words, the situations are very funny, but the writing is flat. I know this "biography" is supposed to be the work of a poor writer, but I think this approach was unintentionally too apropos. Thus, I laugh at what I read, but not particularly while I was reading it. Telling people about this book is almost more fun than reading it.
Silber's father is a sadist who develops a "method" for turning out a great pianist. He tortures not just Silber with this method, but the entire family. Silber's brother is somewhat of a doppelganger of Silber. Silber's hated sister is petty and cruel, but the way she turns out is the most lifelike portrayal of how a real human being would probably react to the torments of growing up with a bunch of self-absorbed loons.
Afflicted with a phobia against all noise, eventually this leads the composer Simon Silber to remove the strings from one of his best pianos and replace them with rubber. He writes a piece for piano pedals. He spends an hour performing Chopin's Minute Waltz. In short, Silber appears to be the bastard son of John Cage.
The story of Silber is told by a hired biographer, Norman Fayrewether Jr.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I think the Publishers Weekly reviewer may have missed the point: This isn't just highbrow slapstick - you don't have to know a thing about classical music to enjoy it and, while it's very funny, there are some very serious things being said here about life among what, if the Nature Channel were to do a show about humans, would be called "non-breeding males." What we have here is something simultaneously rolling-on-the-floor hilarious and astringently satirical that every few pages reveals a frightening truth: something in the nature of A Confederacy of Dunces (or, in a lesser degree, the Neon Bible) or, more recently, David Eggers' A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius or David Sedaris' Me Talk Pretty One Day - although personally I found Simon Silber much more enjoyable than the latter two.
It has been said that all first novels are autobiographical, and certainly every aspiring novelist must have shared the long years of obscurity and self-doubt that defines the lives of the two main characters in this novel. The endlessly rewritten, never-to-be-published novel has become something of a cliché. We all know someone who's written one, and the longer they go without publishing, the more deeply entrenched they become: endlessly pacing back and forth, manuscript in hands, wearing a rut in the earth that gradually rises above them, until eventually the writer vanishes and only his or her hands, still clutching the text, remain above ground; like Simon Silber, they hope that fame will at least descend upon them posthumously, as it did on John Kennedy Toole. Miller, fortunately, is still alive, which means that we can look forward to much more from him.
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Format: Hardcover
This is really a beautiful book. Take the reviews written about Richard Powers (particular Galatea) and apply them to Mr. Miller. The prose is meticulously crafted, but not just that--the subtle (though not too subtle that his non-literary readers didn't pick up on them)changes in voice, as the narrarator's mood oscillates from adulation to envy to spite to disgust to amusement and all back again.
Just really fine, fine writing.
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Format: Hardcover
Talk about a knock-you-off-your-feet first novel! SIMON SILBER is an ingeniously well-written comedy noir that kept me laughing from the first paragraph to the last.
Miller's razor-honed prose makes the antics of biographer Norm and insane musical "genius," Silber, come alive, sometimes to the point that you can even begin to visualize who they might cast in Hollywood to play the characters if we are lucky enough to ever see a true adaptation of this work on the Big Screen.
And, if you are sharp enough to catch all the clues early on, you will have a great time deciding who is more nuts - Silber or the ever-suffering narrator!
I HIGHLY suggest you read this book asap!
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By A Customer on May 15, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Let's face it. Every one of us has something -- writing, painting, music, dance, etc -- that we secretly believe ourselves to be much more talented at than we are. This book is a hilarious yet also poignant look at what happens when these delusions take over. Classy, devious, with a subtle, delightful twist at the end, SIMON SILBER is the most enjoyable novel I've read in a long time. I highly recommend it.
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