An arresting novel about tightly wound secrets and the art of letting go of them.
Callie Quinn is a mild-mannered translator working out of Guanajuato, Mexico. Her life is one of order and lists, and Romain (Thinking Things Through, 1996) populates it with colorful characters, including Armando Torres, a closeted gay drummer in an orchestra to whom she teaches French. A mission to recover Armando’s dog, Tavelé, eventually forces Callie to recall a long-buried secret. Armando is convinced that Pamela Fischer, a new trumpeter in the orchestra, has stolen his dog and encourages Callie to go undercover as Pamela’s new trumpet student to investigate. Armando’s overwrought behavior toes the line of believability, but his charm and childlike nature contrast well with Callie’s seriousness, making for an amusing, if sometimes-tense, dynamic. It turns out that Pamela, a black woman, was adopted, and Callie knows something of the sadness that permeates her music. As a white girl growing up in segregated Missouri in the 1960s, Callie was quiet and studious and sang in her church choir. Later, she met Noah, a young black man from a Kansas City church. Noah’s family expected him to become a “leader in [their] community” and settle down with “a respectable Negro woman.” Then Callie became pregnant with his child. In the present, when Callie’s mother comes to visit, the neatly stacked obfuscations of Callie’s life threaten to topple. Through evenly dispersed flashbacks, Romain clearly renders the complex racial dynamics of the times in which the characters lived. The novel sometimes edges toward melodrama, but the author’s generous explorations of the Guanajuato landscape and the backgrounds of her secondary characters help to round out a subtle, satisfying story.
Romain’s emotional tale brings the interior worlds of its female characters to life.