Secret Harmonies

Overview

Andrea Barrett’s novels have received resounding critical acclaim, inspiring comparisons to Gail Godwin and Anne Tyler. In Secret Harmonies, she creates a wonderful portrait of a family struggling to make sense of their lives in the rural hills of western Massachusetts. When childhood sweethearts Reba Dwyer and Luke Wyatt marry, they expect no surprises. But now that Luke—friend of Reba’s childhood, friend of her heart—is her husband, discord enters their lives. Secret Harmonies is the utterly absorbing, moving ...

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Overview

Andrea Barrett’s novels have received resounding critical acclaim, inspiring comparisons to Gail Godwin and Anne Tyler. In Secret Harmonies, she creates a wonderful portrait of a family struggling to make sense of their lives in the rural hills of western Massachusetts. When childhood sweethearts Reba Dwyer and Luke Wyatt marry, they expect no surprises. But now that Luke—friend of Reba’s childhood, friend of her heart—is her husband, discord enters their lives. Secret Harmonies is the utterly absorbing, moving story of what happens to this couple and to the eccentric constellation of loved ones swirling around them.

To coincide with the release of her new novel The Middle Kingdom, here is Barrett's second novel available in paperback. Hailed as "remarkably touching" (The Los Angeles Times), this is a portrait of people struggling to make sense of their lives in the rural hills of western Massachusettes.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“A superior novel.... Andrea Barrett has succeeded in capturing the complicated rhythms... of a symphony in this simply told tale about relatively simple people just trying to live. What happens to them happens to all of us, one way or another.”

“An elegant, poetic prose style; dazzling imagery; a subtle understanding of the complexities of personality; and an ability to look unflinchingly at the compromises people make with life and yet retain compassion and affection for her characters.”

Secret Harmonies continues to establish Andrea Barrett as a strong voice in contemporary literature. The writing is almost flawless, and the story told is believable and absorbing. Barrett has the ability to pull emotions from her readers with an unrelenting instinct for what is true and for how human beings experience life.... Simple but lyrical prose that will remind readers of Anne Tyler. Barrett's gift is her understanding of her characters. They... draw the reader passionately into their stories. That, of course, is what literature is supposed to be about, and it is a pleasure to read an author like Barrett who not only understands this, but has the talent and the magic to make it hapen.”

“Fine writing.... Barrett really does know about the secret harmonies that hum below the surface of family life.”

“From the title... to its last page, music is the motif of Secret Harmonies—as food for the soul, a spur to memory, an element of order within chaos.... Passages of lyrical power.”

Washington Post Book World
“A superior novel.... Andrea Barrett has succeeded in capturing the complicated rhythms... of a symphony in this simply told tale about relatively simple people just trying to live. What happens to them happens to all of us, one way or another.”
The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)
“An elegant, poetic prose style; dazzling imagery; a subtle understanding of the complexities of personality; and an ability to look unflinchingly at the compromises people make with life and yet retain compassion and affection for her characters.”
Orlando Sentinel
Secret Harmonies continues to establish Andrea Barrett as a strong voice in contemporary literature. The writing is almost flawless, and the story told is believable and absorbing. Barrett has the ability to pull emotions from her readers with an unrelenting instinct for what is true and for how human beings experience life.... Simple but lyrical prose that will remind readers of Anne Tyler. Barrett's gift is her understanding of her characters. They... draw the reader passionately into their stories. That, of course, is what literature is supposed to be about, and it is a pleasure to read an author like Barrett who not only understands this, but has the talent and the magic to make it hapen.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“From the title... to its last page, music is the motif of Secret Harmonies—as food for the soul, a spur to memory, an element of order within chaos.... Passages of lyrical power.”
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Poignant and atmospheric, this book honors the promise of Lucid Stars , Barrett's well-received first novel. Charismatic Reba Dwyer, flanked and buttressed by brother Hank, a shy, late bloomer, sister Tonia, who has Down's Syndrome, and best friend Luke Wyatt, hangs out in meager Massachusetts hill country until she meets Jessie Thayer, a girl with framed pictures on her walls, matching linens and dotted-swiss bedspreads. Ignoring past alliances, Reba joins Jessie in disreputable escapades and, when the friendship flounders, escapes to urban respectability. But her fellow conservatory students find Reba oddly feral, so, when she is summoned home because her father has left, Reba embraces her heritage, becomes pregnant, marries Luke, and has shallow affairs to distract herself from the fact that, like her father, who absorbs life as sounds, she must come to terms with inner music. Elegant, accessible writing transforms Reba's potentially trite passage from self-denial to self-acceptance into fine reading. First serial to Mademoiselle. Oct.
Library Journal
``Just sing the melody, Reba had said. I'll pick up the harmony. But he couldn't sing.'' So there will be neither melody nor harmony in her marriage with Luke, her best friend from childhood. Reba, who hears the wind sing in A-minor chords and the radiator hum in E, cannot hear the devotion or pain in the voice of her husband. Beginning with a marvelous evocation of autumn in New England and an eccentric, musical family, the book segues into just another story about a self-centered, cheating wife. Even her host of whimsical, lovable relatives cannot quite save Reba--or the book. What a disappointment, especially after Barrett's successful debut with Lucid Stars LJ 10/1/89.-- Maurice Taylor, Brunswick Cty. Lib., Southport, N.C.
Carolyn See
"Andrea Barrett's characters are set out with meticulous care....Secret Harmonies is remarkably touching."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780671731373
  • Publisher: Washington Square Press
  • Publication date: 3/1/1991
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 0.58 (w) x 5.50 (h) x 8.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Andrea Barrett

Andrea Barrett is the author of Archangel, The Air We Breathe, Servants of the Map (finalist for the Pulitzer Prize), The Voyage of the Narwhal, Ship Fever (winner of the National Book Award), and other books. She teaches at Williams College and lives in northwestern Massachusetts.

Biography

Andrea Barrett combines, as the critic Michiko Kakutani put it, "a naturalist's eye with a novelist's imagination." For the award-winning novelist and short-story writer, natural science, particularly nineteenth-century natural history, is a central preoccupation, and scientists and naturalists such as Linnaeus, Darwin, and Mendel frequently figure in her work. Barrett herself, however, gave up the study of science shortly after completing an undergraduate degree in biology. She entered a Ph.D. program in zoology but dropped out during the first semester.

Yet the way Barrett writes is, perhaps, her own brand of science; it involves long hours of research and the painstaking distillation of historical fact into historically accurate fiction. By her own admission, Barrett is an obsessive researcher: "Often for a story, I will do enough research to write a couple of novels, and for a novel I'll do enough research to have written an encyclopedia," she said in an interview in The Atlantic. But in the end, she adds, "fiction is about the characters, the image, the language, the poetry, the sound; it isn't about information. The information has to be distilled down to let us focus on what's really going on with the people."

Barrett didn't start writing fiction in earnest until her thirties, and she labored in comparative obscurity until 1996. Then, with four novels already behind her, she won the National Book Award for her first collection of short stories, Ship Fever. The collection explores the romantic and intellectual passions of a variety of historical and fictional characters, from an aging Linnaeus to a pair of contemporary marine biologists. In it, "science is transformed from hard and known fact into malleable, strange and thrilling fictional material," said the Boston Globe.

The book's success launched Barrett into the literary limelight, where her reputation continued to grow. Her next book, The Voyage of the Narwhal, tells the story of a doomed scientific voyage to the Arctic in 1855. The writer Thomas Mallon called it "a brilliant reversal of Heart of Darkness: the danger is not that the characters will 'go native,' but that a lust for scientific knowledge and intellectual distinction will drive them to cruelties they would have been incapable of before."

Recently, Barrett's work has begun to feature recurring characters, some of them related to one another. In another collection of stories, Servants of the Map, several characters from Ship Fever reappear, as does the ship cook from The Voyage of the Narwhal. As Barrett follows the trajectory of their lives and relationships, it is increasingly apparent how attuned she is to the emotional lives, as well as the intellectual lives, of her characters. As Barry Unsworth wrote in The New York Times Book Review, Barrett captures "that blend of precision and appropriateness that has always characterized the best prose, an attentiveness to the truth of human feeling that is in itself a supremely civilized value."

Good To Know

When she isn't writing, Barrett plays African percussion with a group of musicians in Rochester, N.Y. The group includes her husband, the biologist Barry Goldstein.
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