A novel based on a true story, a famous case of fraudulent classical music recordings. The story gives us people seamlessly grafting their flaws and growing into each other.
"Two-Part Inventions" is the name of a series of Bach compositions and a very apt title for this book about fraud. The facts surrounding the actual case of Joyce Hatto and her husband and recording engineer, William Barrington-Coupe, are well-known. Schwartz has taken the essentials and made it the story of a marriage. Her pianist is a Brooklyn-born prodigy, Suzanne Stellman. Her husband is Philip Markon. The book tells their stories separately, from childhood onward, until they meet at New York City’s High School of Music and Art. The book’s strength is here, in these sections: the peculiarity of the gifted child, who finds herself among philistines. Suzanne's father regards her as his own property, a sort of prize, perhaps something won in the lottery. Suzanne’s mother is more understanding but too provincial and warns Suzanne away from the odd neighbor, Richard Penzer, who turns out to be her mentor, almost her savior. Philip, growing up in more difficult circumstances, masters the gift of gab. He grows into a courteous, serious, successful young man—also glib and amoral. The third figure in their chamber drama is the young and worldly émigré, Elena, who attracts both Philip and Suzanne: Does she possess what they lack?
Schwartz seems to strain after a message, almost a moral, at the expense of the complexity of her subtle characterizations. This is a weakness in an otherwise vigorous fiction.