HOW THE BODY PRAYS by Peter Weltner


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A cleanly written multigenerational story that chronicles one family’s disintegration as the outcome of its pride and suffering. Narrated by eight different voices, Weltner’s fourth work of fiction (The Risk of His Music, 1997, etc .) is remarkably seamless, his complex account constructed and supported by each of eight links in a narrative chain. The saga is a melancholy one: the Odom family has always lived according to rigidly demanding rules, usually summed up in a Latin phrase. Drew Odom, however, violates one such precept by having two sons, Aaron and Andy. Aaron, an accomplished musician and a ’60s-era pacifist, is his father’s favorite, while Andy—proud and combative’seems to be his grandmother’s darling. After Andy enlists for the War, Aaron reluctantly follows; though Aaron is killed, Andy survives his own wartime wounds to wander from job to job in the States, torn by his guilty failure to live up to Odom standards. Although a passion for the music of Wagner, Bach, and Bloch has always formed a part of Odom life, Andy harbors a “tin ear.” Only after he takes a lover and is reconciled with his brother’s Vietnamese wife and son does he truly begin to heal. The tale culminates when he arranges a performance of music written by Aaron Rose, the friend from his father’s youth for whom his brother was named. The Odoms” unrelenting standard of duty and courage turns out to be a measure of its failure. While Weltner isn—t the most commanding observer of musical experience, music’s virtue as redemption is made clear, even if readers may not be sufficiently convinced to share in the comforts through which the family finds relief. Weltner is a fine writer, and his narrative range is impressive. But while there are several moving moments, his colorless descriptions of music—the Odoms” spiritual balm—make the redemptions seem distant.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1999
ISBN: 1-55597-288-8
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Graywolf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1999