Sleeping with Schubert

Sleeping with Schubert

4.9 8
by Bonnie Marson

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It seems that the legendary composer Franz Schubert is alive—well, sort of—in the twenty-first century: His soul has taken up residence in the body of Brooklyn lawyer Liza Durbin. Even more astonishing, so has his prodigious gift. A mediocre pianist at best as a child, Liza can suddenly pound out concertos and compose masterly music out of the blue.


It seems that the legendary composer Franz Schubert is alive—well, sort of—in the twenty-first century: His soul has taken up residence in the body of Brooklyn lawyer Liza Durbin. Even more astonishing, so has his prodigious gift. A mediocre pianist at best as a child, Liza can suddenly pound out concertos and compose masterly music out of the blue. But how can a brilliant male Austrian composer from the nineteenth century coexist in the everyday life of a modern American woman? And how can Liza explain what’s happened to her without everyone thinking she’s gone off the deep end?

Fortunately, the evidence is tangible, and Liza is soon brought into the esteemed halls of Juilliard under the tutelage of the revered—and feared—Greta Pretsky, a humorless woman whose only interest in Liza is her channeling of Schubert. Greta’s greedy for her next big star, and the entire New York City press is whispering of Liza’s brilliance as the public awaits her debut at Carnegie Hall. Even Liza’s boyfriend, Patrick, seems more in love with her than ever.

Yet as Liza yields to Franz’s great passion, her own life and identity threaten to elude her. Why was she chosen as the vessel for this musical genius—and when, if ever, will he leave? Their entwined souls follow a path of ecstasy, peril, and surprise as they search for the final, liberating truth.

A strikingly original novel, Sleeping with Schubert plays on years of speculation regarding Franz Schubert’s “Unfinished Symphony.” Bonnie Marson’s extraordinary imagination supposes that Schubert cannot truly die until the mystery is solved—even if it means being resurrected in the body of a deceptively ordinary woman. Filled with drama and humor, this irresistible novel explores love, genius, and identity in ways that will engage and amaze readers.

Editorial Reviews

Eugenia Zukerman
Sleeping with Schubert is a dazzling, touching, funny and original tale. Marson's tone is pitch perfect, her storytelling is both polished and surprising, and her ability to make her characters as zany as they are lovable is alchemic.
The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Off-key simulations of classical music, celebrity journalism and human relationships flatten first-time author Marson's high-concept chick-lit novel about a cranky 21st-century Brooklyn lawyer possessed by the titular 19th-century Viennese composer and pianist. Protagonist Liza Durbin is succinctly introduced as a 30-something with worldly and otherworldly concerns. But Marson's reckless use of analogy ("The music followed a wild course, carved through stony walls, bathed in icy waters") and adjectives ("Her deep brown eyes doubled in size, and her pumpkin-bright hair bristled") gets in the way of her storytelling. Liza is first visited by Schubert when she sits down at a department store piano; her family soon persuades her to take her unusual skills public ("I say make a CD today so if it goes away tomorrow, it's not a total loss"). Her meteoric rise to stardom is chronicled in mock newspaper articles and television transcripts, broad parodies that strain for effect. Narrative suspense and emotion emerge as Liza's Carnegie Hall debut approaches and her on-again off-again boyfriend Patrick bridles at sharing Liza with Franz, but a heroine whose life change brings inadvertent weight loss and battles with a shallow, gorgeous kid sister may remind readers of warmer characters by Jennifer Weiner and Jane Green. Marson is at her best in capturing the power of music to transform and (literally) inhabit performers and composers, but this is a brittle, overworked debut. Agent, Richard Pine. (June) Forecast: Marson's novel is likely to have a hard time finding a readership: chick lit readers may be thrown by the elaborate conceit, and classical music enthusiasts are unlikely to go for the girly stuff. Film rights have been sold to Paramount, though, which gives the book a chance for extra exposure. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
One might think from the title that this is a historical fiction or a celebrity tell-all but instead first novelist Marson has managed a rather amusing story about a woman suddenly possessed with genius-not her own but that of Franz Schubert. Liza Durbin's New York life as a mediocre lawyer in an on-again, off-again relationship is completely overturned when she is inhabited by the composer. Marson convincingly tells of the rewards and perils of genius and the ways in which Liza's inner life will never be the same (her outer life, of course, is changed with the advent of concert dates, professional recordings, and uncanny compositions). There are a lot of elements of the chick-lit genre-Liza's problems with family, relationships, and sudden fame among them-but Marson, a visual artist, also offers some more introspective queries into the upheaval of genius. Fun and literary enough for medium-sized and larger public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/15/04.]-Amy Ford, St. Mary's Cty. Memorial Lib., Lexington Park, MD Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Brooklyn lawyer finds herself sharing mind and body with Franz Schubert, in this high-concept first novel already in film development (think Freaky Friday gone symphonic). Thirty-one-year-old Liza Durbin is walking through Nordstrom while visiting her folks in California when she finds herself brilliantly playing Schubert on the store piano. Newly talented and with heightened senses in general, she gradually accepts that somehow Franz Schubert has entered her body. After a few episodes of peculiar behavior (when Franz takes over, she's a little out of control), she takes a leave from her law firm to play piano under the guidance of a teacher from Juilliard who has mysteriously learned of Liza's situation. Liza prepares for her Carnegie Hall debut at her platonic but heterosexual male best friend Fred's apartment. Her rich sister Cassie promotes her into a media darling. Her boyfriend Patrick returns from an extended visit to Milan-where Liza fears he's been unfaithful-and proves wonderfully sympathetic. Nevertheless, Liza allows herself a dangerous flirtation with a caddish composer who wants her to play his composition as her encore at Carnegie Hall. The concert is successful but controversial when she encores with a new Schubert piece instead. Eventually, the fact that Schubert is "within" her not only becomes public but is generally accepted. Patrick returns to Milan; she longs for him occasionally, but she's awfully busy. Experiencing life through the filter of Franz's genius, Liza loses weight, becomes glamorous as well as talented and wildly popular while remaining unaffected and lovable. On her European tour, Liza, guided by Franz, finds the conclusion to his unfinished symphony.Once the symphony is performed by an eclectic A-list orchestra (Yo-Yo Ma, Wynton Marsalis) under Liza's direction, Franz disappears into the ether, leaving Liza enriched and the world musically rejuvenated. Hits all the obvious notes while skirting the difficult passages, but should make a fun movie. Film rights to Paramount. Agent: Richard Pine
From the Publisher
“Combining just the right amounts of love, lunacy, and lyricism, Bonnie Marson has given us an enchanting tale about genius and relationships sparked by the improbable convergence of a dead composer and a Brooklyn lawyer. This book is as original as they come. You will be captivated.”
—Tawni O’Dell, author of Backroads

“A charmed and charming novel—an imaginative joy ride with a gifted and generous spirit.”
—Katherine Dunn, author of Geek Love

“From the opening lines, Sleeping with Schubert is a hilarious, whimsical romp through the looking glass of a great musical mystery. The writing snaps, crackles, and pops with humor as Bonnie Marson makes Schubert a sexy, happening kind of guy who gives new meaning to our dreaming the impossible.”
—Jonis Agee, author of The Weight of Dreams

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.33(w) x 9.49(h) x 1.20(d)

Read an Excerpt

Sleeping with Schubert

By Bonnie Marson

Random House

Copyright (C) 2004 by Bonnie Marson
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0739311891

Chapter One

The day I became a genius I locked the keys in the car with the motor running. This minor delay served its cosmic purpose, I suppose, delivering me right on time for my transformation at the spiritual launch site-women's shoes at Nordstrom.

Christmas in southern California satisfies about as well as chocolate mousse with Cool Whip. Holiday flourishes covered every Nordstrom surface that day, but the sun shone warmly, Santa's suit had sweat stains, and the perfect snow never melted.

Dad and I had a tradition of shopping for Mom together. Knowing her so well, we felt we could combine our instincts to pick a gift she might not loathe. Fat chance.

I found a rose-colored satin luxury that anyone would love. Dad looked at it skeptically, scratching his bushy gray hair.

"How much?"

"Hundred and eighty." I said it casually, like I always spend that much on bathrobes.

"Dollars? A hundred and eighty dollars? I could buy a house for that!" His face twisted with horror, which our poor saleslady took seriously. She flustered at us apologetically.

"Really, miss, it looks fine to me," he said. "Wrap it, please. Chanukah paper, if you have it."

The saleslady stared blankly back at him.

Ever since moving from New York to San Diego, my father's jokes zoomed over the heads of store clerks, waiters, and ticket takers. He ached for the verbal volleyball you could pick up on any street corner in the Bronx. I had moved away only as far as Brooklyn, and worked as a lawyer in Manhattan. In spare moments, I fantasized about more creative pursuits and a possible move to palm-tree country. But if ever I were tempted to live in California, that saleslady's blank stare would be a strong deterrent.

We headed toward the dresses, looking for I don't know what. Something for my sister, something for Aunt Frieda. One by one, commission-driven "sales associates" assaulted us with helpfulness. After a dozen May I help yous, I grabbed the first dress in reach and asked a saleslady for a dressing room. This made me safe. Nordstrom associates are connected by

hidden antennae and territorial threats that keep the shopper safe from other sales associates once an alliance is made. My boyfriend should be so monogamous.

Piano music had been drifting around in my head since we arrived. The volume rose and fell as we wandered around the store. When we drew close to the source, the melodies hardened and cracked like dried clay.

A highly polished baby grand sat on the highly polished marble floor and was played by a highly polished pianist. His honey-colored hair was swept away from his scarily perfect face. Turquoise-blue contacts looked down a surgically carved nose toward a beauty-queen smile with teeth as white as white.

He played the Christmas standards with showy finesse, dramatizing Rudolph and trivializing the Wise Men. His head swayed gracefully with the music, mimicking sincerity. Occasionally, he'd look up to bless us with a smirk and an eyebrow shrug, assuring us he was too good for this banal dreck the store made him play. If only he could show us his real stuff.

Normally, I'd accept it all as store atmosphere, but his music was getting on my nerves. Every time I got near him, my head throbbed and sweat slid down my neck. His know-it-all look enraged me and I fought not to scream when he Muzaked "Ave Maria."

I tried to walk away but his playing attracted me like a spectator to an Amtrak wreck. Occasional missed notes hit my body like flying glass. I outplayed him in my head, summoning the music's original beauty. When he left for his break, I calmly took his place on the piano bench and began to play.

Through all my grade-school piano lessons I'd only gotten good enough to recognize the skill in others. Suddenly I became an other.

I was not like a lifeless puppet, nor a remote-control robot. All the movement came from inside. Muscles flexed, fingers moved, and my mind was filled with a comprehension I had no right to possess. I vibrated like a tuning fork as the music flowed outward. Visions slid in and out of focus. My brain engaged in a psychic tug-of-war with an unseen opponent.

It was a lovely piece I played, one I'm sure I never heard before but which felt like an old friend. The melody started slowly and I marveled at the grace in my hands. My manicured fingertips roamed the keyboard at will, gathering up its secrets and pouring them out in exquisite form. The tempo picked up and my heart raced to meet it. I watched my fingers hurling, twisting, and dancing wildly, amazed they didn't pretzel up on me. Then came a light and lilting part pulling on strands of melody remembered from the beginning. The ending left me tear-drenched.

When I stopped, the world of Nordstrom fell in on me again. The response to my music was, like, totally Californian. Most of the shoppers shopped on, unscathed by a miracle.

Only a small crowd took notice. They gathered around with enthusiastic words and even requested autographs. An elegant woman in her forties, patrician to her toes, wept into a linen hanky. A gray-haired couple held tightly to each other and offered comments in a language I didn't recognize.

"Hey, lady, how'd you do that?" I turned to see an adolescent boy in trendy, cool-kid clothes. He stared at me, stunned, as if he'd just discovered fire.

"I don't know," I answered. Then the world grew dark, the ocean rushed through my ears, and I gratefully passed out.


Do people normally dream when they faint? It was the first faint of my life, so I'm no expert. But when Dad's voice roused me a minute later, I had already had a life-changing experience.

My body housed two lives. To protect my sanity I denied it many times but, as I look back, it was obvious from the start. Someone else, some person who possessed more passion than I ever felt, had crawled into my soul with me. Like lovers sharing a bed, yanking at the covers, brushing up and pulling away, we were separate but together and utterly unready for each other.

"Liza, honey, are you okay?" My father helped me sit up as Nordstrom elves scurried to find help. The small throng around me asked one another the usual questions.

"I'm fine, Dad. I just want to go home."

My own sense of shock was augmented by strange responses to the ordinary details of the surroundings. Everything smelled wrong and glaring lights made me throw an arm across my eyes. I gasped at the sight of a woman in shorts.

"Someone's gone for a doctor, Liza. Let's just wait a minute." Then Dad's voice changed from concern to astonishment. "Honey, where on earth did you learn to play like that?"

A stylish store official in a dark business dress broke through the crowd with a medic in tow. Despite my protests, the brusque young man looked in my eyes, felt my pulse, and checked for signs of imminent demise. His quick, assured hands felt cool against my clammy skin. Much as he tried, he couldn't find anything horribly wrong and suggested I go home and take it easy for the rest of the day. If only he knew.

The curious bystanders were pretty much losing interest by then, except for an elderly, tweed-covered gent who chased after me and my father as we hurried toward the exit. He could barely catch his breath when he finally spoke: "Excuse me, miss, but that was remarkable. Really remarkable. Wherever have you been keeping yourself? Where may I hear you perform again?"

Perform a-gayne, was how he said it. He was American, but with that Continental accent you hear only in old movies.

"I don't perform anywhere." I was more frightened than flattered.

"Then where do you study? Can't I hear you again?" He looked hopeful, and actually removed his fedora as a show of respect.

"I'm sorry, sir, I really have to go." My response deflated him. "I'm glad you liked that number, though."

Dad held onto my elbow as we turned to go.

"That number?" The stranger was following us out the door. I wanted to disappear, but my Number One Fan would not be left behind. "Miss, don't you know what you've achieved? At least take my card and promise you'll call."

"I can't promise that"-I looked at the card-"Dr. Sturtz. I'm not from here, anyway. But I'll keep your card."

He seemed bereft, not ready to give up.

"Where do you live, my dear?"


"May I at least know your name?"

"Liza. Liza Durbin."

Dad was kind while we drove home, allowing me to sit beside him without a word. He didn't ask his many questions, but I was asking myself the same ones anyway, plus some extras. Like why the sight of the parking lot startled me or how come I felt carsick for the first time since childhood. Just the feel of the synthetic seat covers made me squirm.

As we turned into the driveway of my parents' perfectly average suburban home, I realized how un-average I felt. (Hey, lady, how'd you do that? Sorry, kid, you must mean someone else. You must.) Only the familiarity of my parents' home kept me semi-sane and earthbound. I sank into an easy chair that was soft and overstuffed, like all their furniture. I scanned the family photos, the smiling faces on every wall and table. I recognized all of them. Would they still know me?

My mother greeted us in a black leotard and knee-length tights. She'd obviously just taught her yoga class. I marveled at her taut, sixty-year-old body, as if I hadn't seen it countless times before.

"What are you staring at?" she asked me.

"Nothing, Mom. You look good, that's all."

She eyed me suspiciously. "Twenty years of yoga will do that for you," she said. "I keep telling you that."

In response to my stubborn silence, Mom once again provided details on the many benefits of yoga and how I could easily take classes in Brooklyn. But I was preoccupied, and her conversational train must have taken a turn that I didn't notice. Suddenly she was asking me a question that started with "When?"

"Soon, Mom." It seemed like a good guess. "I'll start again soon."

Mom sized me up through slitted eyes. Uh-oh.

"All right." It was the I'm-your-mother, there's-no-escape voice. "What's going on? You look awful and you haven't said a word."

Just what kind of spectacle was Mom capable of making out of my amazing feat? When I was small, she'd call the neighbors any time I blew a saliva bubble or counted to one.

"Liza had a little fainting spell in Nordstrom's, Louise," Dad volunteered.

"A little fainting spell? What's little about fainting?" My mother sprang into panic mode, instinctively hitting on food. "Did you eat, darling? Maybe you were hypoglycemic."

"I'm not hungry, Mom."

"Did you go to urgent care? Have you seen a doctor?"

"There was a doctor in the store, Louise. Everything's fine. She just needs to rest."

"I want to hear everything," she said. "I'll make you some chamomile tea, and we'll have something to eat."

No point in arguing. Once my mother has opened the fridge, no mouth goes unfilled. We sat down for a three-course snack. I sensed a spice was missing from Mom's chicken salad, but couldn't say what it was. The fruit salad, though, tasted like ambrosia. As my mother served scoops of cookie-dough ice cream, my father took a deep breath and said, "Louise, something else happened in the store today."

I listened without comment to Dad's tale about the wackoid woman in Nordstrom who commandeered the piano and played like a genius. How could this story be about me?

"It was the damnedest thing, Louise. She played so beautifully, like a Rubinstein or a Perlman." Dear Dad's knowledge of classical music didn't extend beyond "Streets of Laredo," but his praise was heartfelt. "I tell you, this thing came from nowhere, a total shock."

Mom had listened intently, staring at me, leaning toward me, while Dad talked. When he finished, she was silent only a moment before she turned on my father.

"Shocked? Our daughter does something brilliant and you're shocked? What's wrong with you?"

Her attention flashed back to me. Her deep brown eyes doubled in size, and her pumpkin-bright hair bristled.

"You were always the best in your piano recitals, Liza. Isn't that right, Max?" No reply. "Everyone said you were the best, darling, and you were. They weren't just saying that."

I lowered my eyes and watched my ice cream melting, little blobs of cookie dough bobbing in the goo. This seemed fascinating to me, and far safer than the conversation in the room.

"Louise," Dad said, settling a hand on Mom's slim forearm, "I don't think you understand."

"I understand that she's good at many things. Didn't she do great in college, and in law school? And she could always draw, too. Why couldn't she be a pianist if she works at it?"

I saw no hope. She would only understand through demonstration. I eyed the black lacquer upright piano waiting for me in their living room, the one they bought on credit twenty-odd years ago. I had insulted it with "Chopsticks," tortured it with scales, and embarrassed it with the Young

Pianists' Beethoven, the edited version. This time I thought I might make it proud.

Mom and Dad followed me into the living room and I sat at the creaky piano bench. Suddenly, the keys scared me silly. Can a miracle strike twice? Most of me wanted to run away, but my hands dove for the keyboard. They landed in starting position and immediately took flight. The first notes were familiar, instantly linked with the words my mother used to sing to me: This IS the sym-pho-NEE, that Schu-bert-wrote-but-ne-ver FIN-nished.

Brilliantly played, with lofty emotion. How'd I do that?

Filled with belief in the music, I moved on through thrilling passages. Torrents of music were followed by sweet pauses. Delicate notes were embroidered into complex patterns. I could hear other instruments that should have been playing: the strings, horns, percussion. I felt the notes as if I'd played them before. Then it changed. Suddenly I was playing something original. I roamed the keyboard, leaving footprints in fresh snow. Improvising, playing with the possibilities. It ended grandly.

Mom got it.

When I was young, I was terrified of the dark. Gradually, the night ghosts turned into explainable shadows and ignorable sounds. No more fears, until that night. A ferocious child-again dread shocked my adult senses. Wild dreams chased me around the bedroom.


Excerpted from Sleeping with Schubert by Bonnie Marson Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

BONNIE MARSON is an artist who has worked in many media including painting, drawing, photography, ceramics, and mosaics. She has sold her work in galleries and to collectors around the country. Sleeping with Schubert Film rights have been acquired by Paramount Pictures. The author lives in Tucson, Arizona, with her husband, Steve Sadler.

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Sleeping with Schubert 4.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Whenever I am enjoying a novel, I tend to slow down towards the ending. It's because I don't want the book to end. That's what happened with "Sleeping with Schubert." Bonnie Marson has such a wonderfully comedic wit that I found myself smiling and even laughing out loud throughout the story. Even the theme, which is total fantasy, makes me laugh. Possessed by a 19th century composer, a young lawyer has to adapt to a creative genius living inside of her. Conversely, the composer must adapt to being inside of a contemporary woman who lives in NYC, with all its noises and over 200 years of inventions. Completely original, this story deserves more than 5-stars. I highly recommend reading "Sleeping with Schubert." I guarantee a good laugh.
Jennarie423 More than 1 year ago
A truly magical book for fans of chick lit, classical music, and original narrative. Bravo, Ms. Marson!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I was pulled in by the first sentence - completely in the author's hands by the first time Franz himself awoke. Though the premise is as off-the-wall as it could be- a young lawyer suddenly possessed by the soul of Franz Schubert, it is told with such realism it seemed it could have happened. 'Sleeping' is joyous without being trumped up, poignant without being sappy. Definitely will read this again.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this book and read it in 3 nights. From the first page this book grabbed me and I hated putting it down. Such an enjoyable story with fun and entertaining characters. I didn't want the book to end!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I had first seen a review this book in a magazine I subscribe to (probably Glamour) Later on I read the first chapter of the book & decided to purchase the title. Smart move! Read the entire book in one sitting-stayed up til 7 am! This is a fascinating story, you begin to cheer on both Franz & Liza. It's true, after reading this you want to listen to Schubert's music. Highly reccommend this
Guest More than 1 year ago
Franz Schubert returns...don¿t miss him! [Reviewed June 24, 2004] I highly recommend SLEEPING WITH SCHUBERT, a first novel by Bonnie Marson, as a well-written, thought-provoking, humorous and intelligent work of fiction that leaves the reader with goosebumps and an irresistable urge to go out and buy some Schubert CDs. Basically, Liza Durbin, a spirited young lawyer, becomes inhabited by the spirit and talent of Franz Schubert. Although the intriguing idea of having Franz Schubert as a second identity sounds like a bit of a stretch, Marson¿s inspiration to extend and nurture this surrealistic notion works because she presents a story replete with wit, fascinating plot lines and wonderful characters. Having Schubert as an alter ego may sound exciting, but consider: you are never alone! Never! Intimacy is only possible if you don¿t consider three a crowd. The protagonist¿s voice is genuine, funny, vulnerable and sharp. Initially light-hearted in its examination of sudden musical talent, the novel¿s tone gradually shifts as the double-edged blade of fame impacts Liza¿s life. The power of music to unite is a moving subtext. Coupled with Liza¿s evolving sensibilities, there is enough here to lift this work far above the customary summer offerings. Again - highly recommended! Hard to believe this is Marson¿s first! Reviewed by Burgess Needle; Former Co-Director Southern Arizona Writing Project