Yet another recent Harvard grad makes a splashy literary debut, with this highly refined tale of love among musical geniuses.
Raised by her art-collecting father and artist mother to believe that the Biblical “chosen people” refers to artists, writers and musicians, Natasha Darsky shows extraordinary talent as a violinist at an early age. While studying composition at Harvard, where her brilliance is matched only by her beauty, she begins a romance with the only composition student who outshines her, a French/Algerian named Jean Paul who strives to reach “Sublimated Tonality.” After Natasha reads a letter in which he implies that her composing talent does not match his own, Natasha drops composing and returns to the violin. Quickly becoming an international star, she dumps the clueless Jean Paul, who slips into anonymity despite a small cult-following of music geeks. Known for the sexual energy she brings to her playing, Natasha actually spends a lonely touring life under the thumb of her parents, who manage her career. At 29, she has a brief, bizarre fling with an aging Polish filmmaker, whose eccentric genius reminds her of Jean Paul. She becomes pregnant and eventually raises her daughter, Alex, alone. A piano prodigy beyond Natasha’s wildest dreams and bored by normal childhood, Alex happily tours with her mother. Then in her early teens, Alex begins to assert her emotional independence from Natasha. Having also uncovered her own deep gift for composing, Alex ends up at a conservatory in Indiana where, unbeknownst to Natasha, she studies under Jean Paul. When Alex comes home to Natasha brokenhearted, Natasha jumps to conclusions about Alex’s relationship with Jean Paul. But the misunderstanding clears up in time for Natasha to perform a swan-song concert in which she debuts Alex’s successful creation of Sublimated Tonality.
Despite Goldstein’s clear talent, it is hard to differentiate her authorial voice from her characters’ pretentious, self-congratulatory whining.