WINTER MUSIC by Karen Rile


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Fragile love-affairs, wispy jealousies, and yearning ambitions among some classical-music people in Philadelphia--as Rile attempts a rather British sort of first novel, with literate but often-amateurish results. More or less at the center of a large, artificially linked cast-of-characters is Lawrence Chattarjee, an aging flute virtuoso whose own career was cut short by a hand-maiming accident: elegant Lawrence recalls his half-Indian background (the social handicaps), his devotion to his American mother, his early triumphs and love affair with protÉgÉ James Rosen; he writes letters to James, now a top soloist, fretting over their somewhat frayed relationship; and he worries about the emotional commitment he's making by taking on a new protÉgÉ--eleven-year-old local prodigy Gabriel. Meanwhile, however, with almost desperate-seeming restlessness, Rile surrounds Lawrence with subplot after subplot. There are chapters that focus on Gabriel--who'd like to be just a regular kid--and his divorced, pushing mother Elizabeth. Other chapters follow the unsatisfying relationship between Valiumpopping James and Curtis student Marina--who, spending the weekend in Chicago as guest-artist James' neglected hotel bedmate, is infatuated at first sight with a violinist named Cleveland; meanwhile, Eric, a virginal student from Philadelphia--who just happens to be the brother-in-law of Gabriel's father!--falls madly in love at first sight with Marina. And eventually, when Eric discovers that his chum Ben (who just happens to be the brother of Elizabeth's lover!) is having a homosexual affair with Cleveland, he commits suicide--one of the two sudden, arbitrary deaths that vainly try to bring all these undeveloped plot-lets to some sort of conclusion. Rile shows her lack of experience throughout, in fact--in the contrived interweaving of characters, in the static construction, in Lawrence's verbose musings (he will ultimately decide to give his all to Gabriel), in the unconvincing glosses of psychology. But, while it largely fails as an elegant would-be fugue on a few tired themes (unrequited passion, thwarted sexuality, ambition), this fiction debut does offer evidence of Rile's intelligence and narrative stylishness--with promise of better, more lifelike work in the future.

Pub Date: July 8th, 1983
Publisher: Little, Brown