A divorced violinist suffers a breakdown in the midst of an orchestral concert in Wilder’s second historical novella (My French Whore, 2007).
Without warning, violinist Jeremy Spencer Webb, in his early 30s, tears up the first violinist’s sheet music, begins pounding the black keys of the piano and pours water into the tuba (he thought it was thirsty, he later explains). His orchestra sends him to an all-purpose German health spa (recalling Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, a volume as expansive as this one is slim), where his fellow patients include the revered Russian writer Anton Chekhov and a reticent young woman initially termed the “cute Belgie.” Jeremy, who narrates the novella, does his best to initiate a relationship, or at least a conversation, with the beautiful Belgian woman (he considers her to be far more than cute), but she initially rejects him. She does reveal that her name is Clara Mulpas and that she is married, but that is it. The patient Jeremy, who spends his days sharing tales about critics with Chekhov, soon prevails upon Clara to let down her guard. As they start sharing meals, he discovers that her marriage has been almost as disastrous as his was. He later learns from their doctor, who runs the spa, that she has malignant, inoperable cancer. Yet the two plainly have a beneficial, therapeutic effect on each other, as their relationship deepens and turns (surprisingly explicitly, but still sweetly) sexual. It seems as if the tale is heading into Love Story territory, but the redemptive power of love proves stronger than that here.
A sweet, adult fable.