“The Passion of Tasha Darksy is nothing short of magnificent.” _—Charleston Post and Courier
The Passion of Tasha Darskyby Yael Goldstein Love
Natasha Darsky, “the most famous violinist since Paganini,” lights an erotic fire under every piece of music she plays, telling each composer’s story in a singularly sensuous way. The daughter of a renowned art dealer in New York City, Tasha grew up in a world where artistic achievement was the highest value and her father’s opinion determined the rise and fall of many an artist. Her prodigious musical talent, discovered when she is a girl, blossoms at Harvard, where she begins to compose music. She is soon swept up in a passionate love affair with Jean Paul, a young composer whose innovative music is hailed as revolutionary. Under Jean Paul’s shadow, Tasha abandons her dream of writing music and turns toward performance. Channeling the frustration and muted fury of this choice into her playing, she creates a sexually charged sound that packs concert halls around the world year after year. Her young daughter, Alex, follows in her celebrated footsteps, but it is Alex’s talent as a composer that brings mother and daughter together—and tears them apart in ways Tasha could hardly have anticipated.
THE PASSION OF TASHA DARKSY draws readers into the glamorous and competitive world of classical music, capturing its harsh demands and its magical power to move performers and audiences alike. With rare mastery, Yael Goldstein Love offers a sweeping tale of female ambition, unflinchingly rendered in all its danger, confusion, and passion.
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I am sitting in my living room, and the reporter is eyeing me nervously, tapping his foot out of sync with the salsa beat drifting down the stairs. He looks as though he's raced here straight from the offices of a high school newspaper, Adam's apple jumping in his delicate neck, large blue eyes set wide with earnest curiosity in a smooth, egg-white oval of a face, though I understand (he's brought me a collection of clippings as proof) that he's more established than he looks: recent arts editor of the Yale Daily News, minor freelancing assignments everywhere from the Village Voice to People since he graduated from college last June. His specialty is arts profiles, as he let me know the moment I opened the front door, pushing into my hands the two quarter-page jobs he's done for Entertainment Weekly. I'd pretended to recognize the names; we share some tenuous connection, this boy and I, and I'm anxious to put him at ease. He is the son of the cousin of the brother of God knows who, a line that eventually traces back to my college mentor, Robert Masterson. But, more than that, I like him. I like his youth and eagerness, his undisguised excitement. I like him for not noticing--at least not visibly--what a dull and tired woman Tasha Darsky has turned out to be.
And so I've been trying for nearly an hour to show a hint of the dazzle he's come here expecting. Sometimes I can catch it from the mere anticipation, scoop up some of the phosphorescent run-off from a reporter or a fan's unrealistic idea of me. But today it isn't working.
"And that was 1998?" he asks. He's good at this--incisive, thorough--and I can't help thinking he deserves a better subject for an interview that marks--he's told me this twice--"the most awesome day of his career."
I nod, noticing a ring of something sticky on the coffee table.
It's then that he shifts a certain way in his seat, a funny, aborted wiggle like a child impatient with a heavy diaper, and I realize that he's got a question he's been holding back, his clincher, his killer. It's possible this question is going to be dopey--the supposedly trenchant ones often are--but I find that I have faith in this boy. I find, moreover, that sometime in the past fifty minutes I've decided that we're in this together, poised at the start of a brilliant career. It's a nice place to be, and I don't want to blow it. God knows I'll never be here on my own again. And now, finally, I start to feel that slow prickle of warmth under my skin, that trickling creep of sparkle that once came out of me as something singularly--puzzlingly--crowd-pleasing.
And so I'm a little disappointed when, after a long pause, he says in an overly loud voice: "Would you say there's been any single aspect to your life"--he's biting his pencil between words--"an aspect, or an event, or a . . . well, the aspect that's the pivotal one? The one that, you know, made you what you are, the most famous violinist since Paganini?"
"I'd hardly compare myself to NicolÜ Paganini," I say, because it's true but also because the tone of his voice has set off a vague sort of alarm. I hear a burrowing, wheedling edge there, and it makes me think, just for a moment, that I've been reading this man all wrong.
"Oh, but haven't people been making that comparison for decades? Since Vienna, in fact?" he stammers, pushing the blunt-cut bangs off his forehead. When he returns his hand to his lap, I can see beads of sweat have appeared on his wrists, of all places. The sight makes me think, quite suddenly, of a penguin with a shock of spiked hair we saw in a Budapest zoo fifteen years ago; Alex, all of two years old, had insisted that she knew its name to be Mr. Levin for reasons that never became clear to me. The memory makes me briefly giddy.
"No, not since Vienna. Certainly not that early," I relent, feeling a new protective swell along with my burst of silly, hopeful joy.
"So what was, you know, what would you say it is, the pivotal thing, if there is one? Would you say there is one?"
I look at the beads of sweat, the leg tapping now on the downbeats, the floppy bangs fallen back into eyes fixed onto mine, and I want to throw him something he can use, something good.
"Maybe the people I've loved," I say.
"Love." He repeats the word like it's revelatory, but not in a good way; as though I've said that cars run on happy thoughts. His eyes have gravitated away from mine, and I can't catch his gaze. I'd tried to throw him a line and now he's floundering, and so am I.
But we're saved by a voice booming down the staircase, mingling with the salsa music. "That's a weird thing to say," the voice--like a bell trying hard to sound grumpy--calls. "It's so weird that if I didn't know better I'd say you were actually being honest. That'd be wild."
"Is that Alexandra?" the reporter asks, swinging his head around.
Just then she slouches to the bottom of the stairs.
"I didn't know she was here," the reporter exclaims, looking back and forth between us. "Could we possibly? Would it be possible to speak to her as well? I'm such a big fan. Of both of you."
Usually I'd leap at the chance to pull Alex into an interview--reminisce about our performance of the Van Rheede duet in Brussels back when she was twelve, or the London concerts when she was fifteen, set loose some nostalgia in the air between us and see if it catches--but because Alex is looking at me with narrowed eyes I'm quick to say, "I don't think so. We don't have much time. I have a lunch date, as I mentioned earlier?"
"Just a few more questions to you, then." His voice is petulant, aggressive, but I notice this the way you'd notice a slightly stale smell in the bathroom of a four-star restaurant, a skimming, shallow jolt. All my real attention is turned to Alex, to the very unpromising look she is giving me.
"I wanted to ask about Jean Paul Boumedienne," I hear the reporter say, as I mentally tick through the ways I might have pissed Alex off since breakfast. I stop ticking at the sound of the name, surprised but not yet stunned. The words "Jean Paul Boumedienne," spoken in the reporter's high-pitched voice, echo in the room with us, but I'm certain he didn't really say them. One too many sleepless nights, I think, a little amused, even, at what a messy mind will throw at you. It's true I've barely slept in the weeks since Alex showed up at my doorstep, unexplained and furious. Out of habit, I turn to look at her again; it's when I see her eyes have gone hot and white and ghastly that I know.
"Your relationship with him," the reporter is pressing, and his face, staring intently at Alex, not at me, no longer strikes me as young. "Do you think, perhaps, that that could be the singular thing that made you who you are?"
I want to say, "Where'd you learn to link that name to me?"
I want to say, "What makes you think you have the right to know?"
Most of all, I want to shout, "Alex, why're you looking at me like that?" but the reporter is already answering the less urgent of these questions, saying, "It was Robert Masterson who suggested I ask. He told me that Boumedienne was how it all began."
I watch him long enough to see his thin lips form the words, then whip my head back around just in time to catch sight of Alex's left foot as it follows the rest of her swiftly out the door.
ASK HIM IF HE WANTS COFFEE, i think. ASK HIM IF HE wants water. Hold him at bay and hold him in the dark.
The reporter is sitting ramrod-straight several feet from me, and I can tell, without looking at him, that he's dissecting the scene in his memory: did something just take place or didn't it? I'd like to think I'm not sure myself, but I am. Something has taken place. I just don't know what. This, in itself, is no surprise; it's been a long string of I-don't-know-whats with Alex.
I try to form the words I should say next, that perfect something to deflate the last two minutes, to get him out of my home. I breathe deeply and close my eyes, but what I see is Jean Paul's face: heavy-lidded blue-black eyes, pale lips curled subtly in unexpected places. So darkly beautiful. So unwelcome. Open your eyes, I demand, but I don't want to. I don't want to see the reporter's boyish face aged with anticipation, or the bland and beige room around us, a room so tasteful it's clearly not the product of any real person's taste. I don't want to swing my feet off the plush white carpeting and tuck them beneath me in a feint of intimacy, to hide that the answer I'm about to offer answers nothing. I have the strange thought that what I really want is to fling my eyes open onto my parents' West Village brownstone circa nineteen sixty-something. I want to see the narrow staircase crammed with books, the dozens of paintings jostling for space on the walls; when I look toward the dining room, I want to see reds and blues and golds rain down onto my hands from the stained-glass windows above.
I should see all that, because that's where I am. The reporter is feet away from me, rigid and waiting on the Eames chair upholstered in blandest cream, but I am decades away, under a shower of color, tracing lines across paper. It's a shame the reporter can't be here with me, because this is probably the closest I can come to answering his question; this is how it all began: sitting at a dining-room table rescued from the original Queen Mary, my five-year-old fingers alive with vibrant shades, but not with talent. What's really alive is the living room below, shaking beneath my seat, the wood groaning and the glass tinkling its displeasure at one of my father's foot-stomping tirades. Light swells of jazz mingle beneath this, and supporting it all is my father's ecstatically violent voice. My mother is hovering around me, her flower-scented arms close, her ghostly pale hand reaching down every now and then, but too lightly, almost afraid to touch the paper I'm carefully filling with lines and curves, though there are canvases of hers littered throughout the house. I hear a door slam, and a small man scurries past the bottom of the stairs, in and out of my peripheral vision in an instant. My father is in the dining room seconds later. He stares for a moment as if trying to place us, and then he says, with marked relish, "I don't think we're representing Milton anymore," before gliding away on his elegant rage. I am trying to capture all of this in my drawing, but I am finding it infuriating, because I have no idea how one captures anything in a drawing, I am not good at drawing, and what I really want is to make something that sounds like everything I've just heard. I turn to my mother and ask how to work sound into a picture. The next week, they start me on violin lessons.
This memory is before me and gone in the time it takes to breathe, once, deeply, in and out. Open your eyes, I think again, but I allow myself one more beat of close-lidded silence, because the one memory has unleashed another, and now I am six years old, and up way past my bedtime, afloat in a murky world of cigarette smoke and clinking glasses that has materialized in our living room. Large, well-dressed bodies cram the space, and either push past me or, worse, stop to ask me questions and then laugh at my perfectly reasonable answers. I long to be away and also dread the moment when I'll be banished to bed, and so I stick close to my father, who I know has only the vaguest sense of my presence. I watch from behind his left leg as he gleefully holds forth about "simplicity on canvas," "honest art," and "finally, finally bringing the sublime into this shit hole of a world" to a group of people who worship him for making them rich. My father has an enormous talent for damning people and movements, and even I know that the fad he's calling "sublime" tonight, he'll be calling "criminally na•ve" by next month. He is, after all, that famous Abe Darsky who was declaring Abstract Expressionism dead just months after he'd established a gallery to serve as its epicenter. He is that Abe Darsky who spent his childhood dreaming of becoming an artist, yet never felt the need to try his hand at drawing or painting until he entered an art class as a college freshman at Columbia. After two frustrated days of slow and clumsy sketching, he declared himself unworthy to proceed, and turned himself toward the task of revealing who was worthy. He opened his gallery on his twenty-first birthday--funded by the fortune his own father had made with a revolutionary new flushing mechanism and the sheer suction force of his charm--and was a resounding smash not so much because of the work he included in his first show, as because of the much-touted works he rejected by declaring they'd be much improved if hung with their faces to the wall.
These stories are legend to me; my father himself is still legend to me as I cling to his leg and listen to him rant to his guests. I am the only person who takes him seriously when he declares, as he so often does, "Funny to think, isn't it, that if my old man hadn't thought up a great new way to flush, American art would still be in the international toilet." That my father (and my mother, whom my father calls his "business brain") is responsible for all good art in the country is the easiest thing to believe--all one has to do is listen to the brutal thrum in his voice, so mesmerizing and so frightening. So frightening that, standing right beneath it, feeling the force of its tremor shoot through his body into the left leg I'm clutching, I have a sharp need to know where my mother is standing. My eyes wander the room for the sight of her glittering in the background, filling glasses, flashing smiles, being an incandescent work of art herself, the perfect hostess, but also wondering behind that docile face whether her husband has to go on to quite this extent, because surely he couldn't really think that Michelangelo and da Vinci were pale harbingers of de Kooning. (This I know because she says it later, while tucking me in that night, in that light, delicious way she has of saying impossibly unknowable things as if I know them.)
From the Trade Paperback edition.
Meet the Author
Yael Goldstein Love graduated from Harvard College in 2000. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This is her first novel.
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