Review: The Weight of a Piano, Chris Cander. Europa Editions
It is a truth universally acknowledged that many of us choose a book if not exactly by its cover then by reading the first couple of paragraphs. That’s why every writer knows it pays to have a good opening paragraph.
I picked this book up recently in a store in Waterloo station on the strength of the following:
“Hidden in dense forests high in the Romanian mountains, where winters were especially cold and long , were spruce trees that would be made into pianos: exquisite instruments famous for the warmth of their tone and beloved of the likes of Schumann and Liszt. One man alone knew who to choose them.”
Damn that’s a good sentence. It has a sense of place, romance (in the original meaning of the word) mystery and it kicks off a good first chapter describing the making of a Blüthner Piano (No. 66,825) the subject of the story.
Certainly a story about a piano is not unique but there’s always room for one more. Sadly it’s not this one. I could hardly imagine that a book that starts this well could ultimately be such a disappointment.
Like Unsheltered this book is in two time shifts, but there the similarities end. Kingsolver relates her two different periods in entirely credible ways and gives us two strong, female characters.
The Weight of a PIano set partly in Soviet Russia and partly in contemporary USA , offers us two heroines named Katya and Clara – names close enough to confuse if you’re not concentrating. Neither lady benefits from character development away from their reactions to the various men in their lives.
There are other things to be confused about too.
Chapter 2 kicks off with a typo so that Clara’s surname ‘lundy’ is not given a capital letter – at least not in the copy I was reading. That’s a major error for a publisher to allow to go through to final printing, and on page 15.
Moving swiftly on, the modern tale is centred around Clara who is a car mechanic :
“when the lines were bled, she stuffed the towel into her back pocket and went to her toolbox to grab… ”.
You may wonder how we got from Schumann and the Romanian mountains to Clara stuffing a towel in her back pocket – at least I did.
Both Clara and Katya become at various times in their different lives owners of the said piano yet I struggled to believe in either of them or their convoluted back stories. Neither Garage girl Clara or soviet émigré, victim of domestic abuse Katya are convincing. Nor is the dialogue.
‘Greg’s eyes glistened in the moonlight but he didn’t cry again’
Featuring probably the worst sex scene I have ever read
“Oh Katya,” he moaned.
“Misha” she whispered back.
and an unlikely story line about the sale of the piano which relies on coincidence, followed by an unlikely trip to California’s Death Valley, it felt to me like the book has been written by two different people and neither being able to make up their mind as to what the storyline should be.