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THE SONG READER by Lisa Tucker


by Lisa Tucker

Pub Date: May 1st, 2003
ISBN: 0-7434-6445-1
Publisher: Downtown Press/Pocket

An unpretentious, simply plotted debut about the lovelorn fortunes, in Tainer, Missouri, of a parentless girl and her older sibling: a sister who has a gift for analyzing the songs in people’s heads.

It’s 1981, the summer of “Endless Love,” and Leeann Norris is 11. That’s when her sister, the capable, nearly six-foot waitress, Mary Beth, 23, starts her business as a “song reader,” deciphering hidden messages of love and desire that people harbor in their musical memory. “I have a calling in life,” she tells Leeann, who helps her analyze song charts and usher in her devoted customers to their small apartment on Saturdays. The girls’ mother has died in a horrible car accident, and their father, Henry, deserted them years before. Fending for themselves is no problem for Mary Beth, who, as payment for her services as a reader, soon takes into the household a two-year-old child, Tommy, and a scientist boyfriend, Ben, who is madly in love with her. Leeann, meanwhile, keeps on hoping to find her father, only to learn later that Mary Beth has known all along the reasons for his desertion and even—in collaboration with their mother—played a part in it herself. Mary Beth’s gift for helping others backfires after she pushes Ben away and one of her most needy clients, Holly, finally finds the courage to confront an incestuous father, thus bringing down her family’s censure. Mary Beth is unfairly blamed for Holly’s misfortune and retreats into an inconsolable depression. The author’s earnest narrative plays no tricks, and Leeann is a spunky girl, acting out her happy-family fantasies by tricking her strangely neurotic father into returning home when Mary Beth needs help—though it’s the supereducated Ben who takes charge of the whole mess. Tucker soft-pedals her tale in the wry, admittedly confused first-person voice of Leeann, and while her characters may lack strenuous definition, her tale has a practical, albeit sentimental, appeal.

An emotionally pale family romance, though Mary Beth’s “song reading” may well prove its compelling hook.