Two people nursing childhood wounds meet via a piano and take a journey toward closure across Death Valley.
Cander (Whisper Hollow, 2015, etc.) grabs the reader in her opening pages: a bravura, thickly detailed account of the creation of a Blüthner piano from wood culled in the forests of Romania, then lovingly aged and shaped in a factory in Leipzig. Blüthner No. 66,825 comes to Katya, a gifted Soviet musician who reluctantly immigrates to California with her husband, Mikhail, who promises that her beloved piano will soon follow. Somehow, decades later in 2012, it has wound up in the possession of Clara, an auto mechanic in Bakersfield who impulsively puts it up for sale after she and the piano are kicked out by her live-in boyfriend, frustrated by her inability to commit. How these stories connect doesn’t become apparent until long after Clara reneges on her sale to photographer Greg Zeldin, realizing she can’t give up the only connection to her parents, who died in a fire when she was 12. Cander expertly parcels out her revelations: Alert readers will likely figure out that Greg is Katya’s son before he admits it on route to Death Valley, but the final plot twist is a satisfying surprise. Clues are carefully planted, however, as Cander builds parallel narratives in alternating chapters. Clara warily joins forces with Greg, allowing him to lease the piano and following him to Death Valley, where he takes a series of photos of the piano perched in locations he once visited with his mother. Flashbacks chronicle Katya’s increasing misery in the U.S., mitigated only temporarily—and ultimately disastrously—when her piano belatedly arrives. As the narratives converge, Greg convinces himself and almost convinces Clara that the piano shows they were meant to be together. Her realization that it’s not so simple prompts an odd but beautiful finale that leads from inside the piano’s consciousness to the summit of Dante’s Peak.
Deftly plotted and well written, a gentle meditation on the healing power of art—and its limitations.