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SOLO VARIATIONS by Cassandra Garbus


by Cassandra Garbus

Pub Date: Feb. 2nd, 1998
ISBN: 0-525-94380-3
Publisher: Dutton

 A promising first novel, ostensibly about the struggles inherent in a musician's life, though more pointedly suggesting the far greater struggles intrinsic to modern relationships. Twenty-six-year-old Gala's life has been enveloped by music: lessons at six, a performing-arts high school, and, finally, graduation from Juilliard. As a dedicated oboist, she has lived in the joy of music, but now her happiness and determination dwindle each day as failed orchestral auditions leave her questioning her gift. Performance anxiety grips her, and each attempt on stage becomes more unbearable. Perhaps even more anxiety-producing is the disintegration of her parents' volatile marriage. Her father, a brilliant, manic-depressive historian at Columbia, and her mother, a suicidal has-been pianist, use Gala in their war against each other, burdening her with their secrets, challenging her loyalty. In fact, the two are so compelling, emotional, and passionate that they occasionally overshadow interest in the narrator herself. The story is strongest in exploring the impossibilities of a child parenting her parents, when real tension infuses the plot--the three are unstable enough that anything might happen. But this is not all Gala faces: Not only has her boyfriend, Tom, just won a plum role as violinist in a renowned quartet, but her best friend is surpassing her in their endless rounds of auditions. The strain of her parents' break-up, her mother's desperation, her father's new lover (who may not, it emerges, be so new after all) force Gala to question the fate of her own relationship, and, even more unsettling, her future as a musician. A brief affair confuses issues further, and the storyline becomes labored--though its ending, in which Garbus offers some unexpected (and unconventional) resolutions of these various dilemmas, recaptures the intensity of the early passages. Music may be the motif, but, altogether, it's the vividly realistic examination of love and promises broken that make this a compelling debut.