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VINE VOICEon November 21, 2013
In this rather opaque novel, Julian Donahue, a divorced, forty-something producer of television commercials, is representative of many of the post-1980s generation in their insistence that music be present 24/7 whether via a Walkman, iPod player, etc. Julian sees and understands life as inextricably connected to music, whether it be his now defunct marriage, the loss of his young son, etc. From this perspective, music is hardly simply entertainment; in this novel, for Julian, music is psychologically restorative.

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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on May 12, 2009
I absolutely loved this novel. I rarely write reviews here, but I wanted to for this book in the hope that if you're on the fence about buying this book, this review may be the slight nudge you need to buy it, read it, and love it like I did. And if you love music (of any kind), you would simply be remiss if you don't read this book.

The book begins with the premise that art - especially, music - can inspire nostalgia about people, events, places of the past. But, more specifically, music has the unique power to recall what exactly you were feeling while experiencing those events, people, places. Slowly, the book evolves into a comment on the muse / artist relationship. But as this idea is explored, the reader soon discovers the idea is that the novel is not just about the inspiration behind art - specifically, music - but also how art can assuage pain and hurt of even the saddest, most awful memories. The muse and artist relationship is symbiotic, complementary - but extraordinarily complicated.

What's truly great about this novel, though, is Phillips' writing. From the very first page, you trust him. He's funny, he's passionate, he's affecting. And he renders his characters and their relationships to each other in such real, faithful terms. Even at the times where the plot of the novel and the examination of the characters' thoughts - especially Julian's - begin to strain believability, he gently guides you back to a place where you have no trouble accepting that these are real, extraordinarily sane characters.

If I have one complaint about the novel at all, it's that the writing is a bit dense at the beginning. It takes a few pages to get a handle on Phillips' style, but by about page 45 - with the telling of the hilarious "Incident" anecdote - you know you're in for a treat. And, like I did, you'll probably finish the next 200 pages in about two sittings.

If it's not clear by now, I can't recommend this book more highly. Please, please do yourself a favor and read it.
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VINE VOICEon March 3, 2010
This fourth novel by Arthur Phillips (2009) is more introspective than his other very good novels I have read: Prague (2002) and The Egyptologist (2004). Beginning in New York in the 1950s, the prologue (the overture) describes a performance by Billie Holiday and a soldier's infatuation with her magical stage presence and voice. The transcendent effects of music are pursued in the novel through the life of the soldier's son in New York. Julian is drawn to the performance of an Irish rock singer who, in his mind, produces the same experience his father had with the famous jazz singer.

The novel is organized by seasons that progress from winter through spring, summer, and fall and are written like the movements of a symphony. Julian has fantasies of being a facilitator of the art inherent in Cait's voice. But, in his mid 40s, Julian is also a realist and wants his appreciation of her talent to be free of his personal desires. He communicates with Cait cryptically and from afar giving tentative advice about the expression of her talent.

Cait begins to view Julian has her muse rather than as another fan seeking something from her. This illusion tempts her to separate from her personal muse and divert her attention, energy, and finally love from her music to Julian. For Julian, Cait is the embodiment of artistic talent, the creator of magic, the muse revealed. He is inspired by her, desires her, and is willing to sever his ties with his work and family to possess her. He hesitates at first but becomes willing to ruin himself and Cait's art to fulfill his fantasy.

This interesting novel is difficult to read in the winter section. But like a symphony, the novel unfolds in structure, content, and theme. The theme, transcendent experiences becoming illusions that are pursued obsessively to their premature ends, is explored with great talent by Phillips. He shows readers that our desire to capture our fantasies destroys their future, and we can retrieve lost illusions only fleetingly and with regret. I recommend this novel and give it a four star rating.
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This novel is as much a musical composition as it is a beautiful piece of literature. It is a dirge, a hymn and ultimately, a symphony. It evokes the memory and tragedy of loss while seeking to make sense of a universe that has turned a man into a mist of what he once was and the world he thought he knew, into a foreign terrain.

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.
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on January 26, 2012
I am a recent convert to Arhtur Phillips's books, first to The Tragedy of Arthur and now to this wonderful book. I really liked "Arthur" but this was even better, a prefectly constructed love story for the IPod generation. I can understand why some people don't like his writing style, which can seem a little "over the top" at first, but as a writer myself, I marvel at his construction of these marvelous sentences and extended metaphors. Some of them I went back and read a second time they were so good and I rarely do that!

I come from the Beatles generation and have little love for the kind of music Cait sings here, but it doesn't really matter since all you get here are her beautiful lyrics which transcend the kind of screaming that Phillips describes. He moves the two potential lovers around like chess pieces and the reader is inside the heads of both of them, pushing them together, but understanding why fate seems to be against them. I stayed up and read the whole thing in one night and want to read it again!

But the end brings me to my only complaint: the stuff that publishers crammed into the end. I read this on Kindle and one of the problems with the reader, compared to a book, is you never know how much of the book is left to read, which you have with a printed book. The percent information at the bottomn left corner is your only guide. But when I read the last page of the book, it said I was only at 75 percent! The rest of the book was excerpts from his other books. Not sure what can be done about this. Can the percent be set to reach 100 when the book actually ends rather than at the end of all the advertising?
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on April 20, 2009
Arthur Phillips gave an interview to Amazon for this book and that interview found its way to my Kindle via the Amazon Storefront. In it, Phillips discusses his passion for the iPod and his feelings about music - how each song revives a memory, a moment, a relationship; how a record can make you feel as insecure as the rainy day after 9th grade when you heard it, or a song can make you shake in longing for the person who shares the memory of that song with you. Phillips was right, and as soon as he said this book took that approach and crafted a story about/around/inspired by it, I knew I had to read it.

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.
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on October 11, 2016
As a songwriter, it was easy to lose myself in the story. And I used to live in downtown Brooklyn, too. Getting into the music and the "small-music" scene - present and past - was a lot of fun, and the plot twists were not entirely predictable; it was literary enough for me!
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on September 18, 2010
As a huge fan of Arthur Phillips' work, I was very excited for THE SONG IS YOU. I can happily report my excitement was (mostly) warranted, as he delivers what he is becoming known for: intelligent, surprising, hyper-literate adult fiction. This romantic obsession novel (both because it's about an obsessive romance, and the narrative is romantic) is not what I expected, but even at 250 pages it sometimes gets bogged down in its own thick vocabulary. That said, it's a joy to read and has more than moments where it soars. This guy is a writer to pay attention to, and I can't wait for what he does next.
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on October 17, 2009
Just as with his first novel, Prague, the appeal of this book is Arthur Phillips' broad ranging mind (he's a former Jeopardy champion) and keen insight into human nature. In this work, he applies a somewhat biological reductionist approach to portraying romantic obsession ("all of this vain heartbreak that we cling to as important or tragic would one day be revealed... for what it is: just behavior"). While this could easily stifle any notion of romance, the story is brought to life with a compelling story line: a middle-aged man obsesses over a beautiful young singer, and anonymously becomes her muse by offering the detached advice which she so craves but can't otherwise find from her adoring fans.

Disappointingly, this page-turner, while not unraveling as badly as Prague, ultimately falls flat at the end. While the author craftily builds a narrative line leading to the Julian's (the main character) ultimate reconciliation, the clean ending seems almost tacked on, Hollywood-style, as an afterthought to tie up loose ends in a way that contradicts Phillips' remarkable gift for articulating complexity. To Phillips' credit, the finale eschews sensationalism in favor of a useful moral, but somehow the build is insufficient to make the transformation in Julian appear genuine; it's as if the outcome is chosen because there are simply no other options left. Interestingly, one of Phillips' most remarkable salvaged marriage vs. new start arguments comes less than halfway through the book (far too soon), as Julian's wife muses, "life could be better when reassembled from damaged, familiar shapes, rather than frittered away endlessly looking for something new."

The other major flaw is that while Phillips does a remarkable job of making this work accessible, the dialogue between characters is unrealistic- it's as if *every* character is part Arthur Phillips, wordy & overly cerebral.

These flaws do not mean this book isn't worth reading. As a treatise on obsession and pop culture, this may not have the broad appeal of High Fidelity, but this is more than compensated for by depth of insight. For example, he describes the delicate art of authenticity in projecting emotion on stage ("sing only what you can feel, or less") as it applies to a delicate equilibrium a gifted singer strives to maintain ("Two months ago, she was raw and unblended; tonight she was reasonably effective; someday very soon she would be in danger of marbling over into a slick cast impression of herself"). Throughout this work, Philips tries to put a finger on things we might think can't be measured- and succeeds brilliantly.

I've only read two of Phillips' works and have been disappointed twice, as if by a brilliant chess player with a less than brilliant end game. But, I have reason to hope he'll yet write a novel which does justice to his remarkable talent.
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on June 17, 2013
This is a book that needs to be read and reread and then discussed. I will agree that it is fairly well-written, but the first seventy-five pages are laborious. If the reader can stay with it until the end, then the story has some merit. I felt like I needed to go back and read the the beginning to understand the end. Also, the author seemed to run out of time and interest by the end and just stopped. After a long discussion with avid readers in a book club, we agreed that the whole idea for the story was strange. Out of twenty, only one would recommend it to someone else. Still, I could not rate it a one or a two. It was better than that.
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