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The Song Is You: A Novel (Random House Reader's Circle) Paperback – March 23, 2010
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Amazon Best of the Month, April 2009: A man who's not quite young anymore, his relationship trouble, and his iPod: at first glance Arthur Phillips's The Song Is You sounds like strictly Nick Hornby territory, but it turns out to be a lot closer to The Red Shoes, a story of love and art in which the two are confused and jealously compete. And as in The Red Shoes, but so rarely in other works of art, it's the art-making that carries the most power and mystery. Julian Donahue is a "creative": a skilled director of commercials who has come to know his limits. Cait O'Dwyer is a singer, and a bit of a comet that Julian somehow catches the tail of. Their courtship--as Julian evades a marriage split by an unbearable loss and Cait shoots single-mindedly toward stardom--is an intricately constructed pas de deux that is both surprising and convincing throughout. It's Phillips's first novel set in the present since Prague, and in its artful structure, style, and heart it's a match for that smart and charming debut. --Tom Nissley--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From The New Yorker
Phillips’s best writing achieves an elaborate, gratifying precision, combining a naturally flamboyant style with neat, observational wit. This quality is sharpest in some of the character portraits and delectable set pieces that animate this novel, his fourth, but the central plot is sometimes strained. A middle-aged advertising director, whose marriage has broken up following the death of his two-year-old son, plays an invisible and unlikely muse to a young Irish singer on the brink of stardom. As the two engage in an indirect seduction—they never meet—the narrative veers close to the “adolescent fantasy” that its protagonist fears. But this curious bond provides an armature for Phillips’s beautiful evocation of music’s consoling power to blur the borders between art, artist, and consumer.
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Julian is a director of advertising art. He and Rachel are married and had a beautiful son, Carleton. Carleton dies and when that happens, Julian and Rachel separate and Julian loses all sense of who he is and what he wants. He becomes overwhelmed and obsessed by a beautiful singer named Cait O'Dwyer and, through her music, they connect in an ephemeral way. It is Julian's hope that a relationship with Cait will heal and rebuild him. It will enable him to begin all over again. However, at the point he seeks Cait as his muse and composer, there is not enough material left in Julian to work with. Julian needs to find his substance and form.
Julian has an IPOD and that IPOD contains what is left of his history and what he hopes will be his future. He is able to make connections between particular pieces of music and his past and what he hopes will be his future. His IPOD becomes one of the primary mainstays of his life. His grief over Carleton's death, memories of his childhood, his relationship with Rachel, his brother and his parents are all included in the 'shuffle'.
The beauty of this book is that the allegories to Julian's finding himself are all shown through music. He is the composition of his own life - - the composer, conductor, score, instruments and musician. The music that is created can only be through him.
This book is not a light read. It is akin to listening to a serious symphony and giving it your all. The book is beautiful music created by a master writer and performed in a manner analogous to hearing the composition in the most beautiful concert hall performed by the best orchestra. We hear all the pain, history, hope and ultimately, healing. This is a work of synaesthesia to be treasured by all who love music and literature.
Phillips gives his readers an honest, voyeuristic, captivating journey through the past, present, and future of Julian and the ones important to him. Phillips uses songs to shift through time and space fluidly from memory to memory, telling stories not in a chronological order but as randomly as the songs on his iPod appear that trigger the memories.
Julian finds a new musician, Cait, and follows her career from a lowly dive bar to an international tour. Along the way, he begins finding his attraction to her spread deeper and more thoughtfully, as he connects her lyrics to the moments in his life past and present. Cait's music and persona help him cope with his past regrets, deal with his present aimlessness, and his longing for...he doesn't quite know what, maybe just his longing to be longing over something.
Julian writes/draws out some feedback for Cait at a show and it gets around to her; from then on til the end, the relationship becomes something torn between friendship, romance, mentorship, mutual therapists, and philosophers. The two never come face to face, but they spend the book dancing around the courtship of one another and finding ways to tease along the desires they both sustain for each other.
"The Song is You" took me on a journey I wasn't expecting. I found myself longing to get to the end, then pulling back and hoping it wouldn't come. I expected a trip down memory lane with music and memories intertwined, as the interview suggested, but this novel became so much more than just that. It weaves and flows with suspense, tension, and anguish, like a great mystery or thriller.
Take your time and enjoy "The Song is You." It's the novel you'll treat like a favorite album; you'll be enjoying it over and over again when your ears (and in this case, your eyes) just can't tolerate anything less.
Julian's loss of enthusiasm for life suddenly takes an upturn when he happens into a small NYC nightclub and witnesses the beguiling, twenty-something Cait O'Dwyer with her rock band singing with off-the-charts sensuality and meaningfulness. He refuses to be a stereotypical, adoring fan, but communicates with her through ten drawings he does on bar coasters given to her by the bartender. He plays her demo CD endlessly, while she responds with a new song: "Bleaker and Obliquer," which obviously refers to him. And so starts a distant relationship where communication is via such forms as email, phone, clandestine notes, lyrics, and the like, except for actual face-to-face meetings. Both anticipate a "right" time to meet, but the tentativeness of their connection seems to continually find a way to undermine that possibility.
It is an intriguing novel, especially the character Cait, but Julian's introspective doubts and the constant circling of each other are quite drawn out. The writing is impressive and insightful, but word choices and phraseology can make the book somewhat difficult. It is mildly disappointing that Julian and Cait, both quite smart, cannot get past inadequate communications. Music is not a substitute for life and interacting with real persons.
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Another TBR Pile Challenge book. This one has been on my TBR pile since 2010, when it received literary acclaim.Read more
I genuinely enjoyed the first like, 3/4 of the book.Read more