An anxious harpist flounders in the wake of his divorce and his father’s death.
“I’m a Midwesterner, born and raised in Milwaukee, where they manufacture beer and the heavy machinery you should not operate while drinking it,” explains narrator Matt Grzbc in the opening line of this mostly charming novel. The painfully self-aware Matt has a great sense of humor, but his comic insights don’t help him much as he faces a confounding array of personal problems. His father has just died of a heart attack—in the middle of a relaxing meditation to prepare himself for cancer treatment. Matt himself has a congenital heart defect and crushing sexual performance issues which put the kibosh on his fledgling relationship with a new girlfriend. It doesn’t help that he’s still in love with his already-moved-on ex or that their 6-year-old daughter seems to have inherited her father’s malaise. Having bombed out at auditions for major orchestras early in his career, Matt is making a living playing hotel brunches and giving lessons; even in this low-stakes situation he's tormented by the continual “deep-seated sense that I am about to fail.” Then two things happen: he gets a tryout for the St. Louis Symphony and is asked to play the harp for dying patients in a hospice. Between them, these opportunities light up his whole anxiety dashboard, and his attempt to rise to both occasions forms the plot of the novel. It’s not quite enough, though. Mozina’s (Quality Snacks, 2014, etc.) narrative loses steam in the second half, more or less due to the “contrary motion” identified in its title. The reader starts feeling as impatient with Matt as his friends and relatives are. On the other hand, the pleasures of the writing never flag: “If you’ve ever been trapped in a refrigerator only to have the door flung open just before you black out, you have some sense of what Chicago spring feels like.” “ ‘Hello,’ T.R. drawls in his soft, hoarse, old guy’s voice, like Winnie the Pooh gone to seed.”
Such a likable narrator, but his story gets as caught up in his underwear as he is.