UNHEARD MUSIC by Ursula Perrin

UNHEARD MUSIC

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KIRKUS REVIEW

After the highly distinctive, gently beguiling work of Ghosts and Heart Failures, Perrin's third novel is quite a letdown: though well-written and often alive with humor and intelligence, it's an oddly unfocused, essentially unconvincing recycling of the conventional family-vs.-career, woman-in-conflict scenario. The woman here is well-bred Tonia Haseltine, whose father's early death has left her and her mother (now a typist) to a somewhat degrading lower-middle-class life in Queens; ""and she knew if she was to get out of purgatory--Queens--it would be by singing, and more than anything else in the world, she loved to sing."" But, though Tonia starts out with dedication (paying for singing lessons with secretarial work), she very quickly winds up married to her first love, young doctor Ben--to whom she's been introduced by pal Charity, an unstable heiress. And then: kids, suburbia, ""life's oldest story, the glorious first months of marriage turned into crumbs and egg stains and the smell of sour milk and unclean diapers."" Tonia feels that Ben is sabotaging her attempts to reclaim her career. ""I suppose I thought I could do it all,"" she says, bitter about her ""brainless, songless existence."" A few years pass; Ben drinks; Tonia looks for love elsewhere; then, in an awfully crude bit of arbitrary plotting, son Jamie is killed in an accident, and Tonia feels ""she did not want to sing ever again."" But eventually, as Ben leaves, Tonia rethinks her life: ""I have made too many mistakes. I have lived too much by my feelings . . . I have been weak too often when I should have been strong. . . ."" And finally, after her mother's death, 40-year-old Tonia gets a dubious last-page happy ending: the Boston Opera Company and a new lover. Throughout, in fact, the turns of Tonia's life seem only sketchily explained or understood--with distraction rather than illumination in family history and in the parallel documentation of love-starved Charity's sad story (she has everything, wastes it, desperately going from husband to husband). And Tonia's crisis is especially uncompelling--she often seems merely a bland whiner--because her supposed devotion to music is so sketchily, flavorlessly presented. A disappointment, then--though Perrin's considerable talents surface often enough (fine mom/daughter dialogue, leanly effective backgrounds) to make this a readable, above-average entry in an overworked genre.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1981
Publisher: Dial