The Piano Man's Daughter

Overview

In 1939, just before the outbreak of World War II, a young piano tuner, Charlie Kilworth, faces two enigmatic questions: Who was his father? And, given the madness that consumed his mother, does he dare become a father himself? Drawing on his own memories and the memories of those who knew and loved Lily Kilworth and on the iconic contents of a wicker suitcase she took with her everywhere, Charlie pieces together the story of a vivid, mercurial woman whose madness was both a gift and a curse. Conceived and born ...
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Overview

In 1939, just before the outbreak of World War II, a young piano tuner, Charlie Kilworth, faces two enigmatic questions: Who was his father? And, given the madness that consumed his mother, does he dare become a father himself? Drawing on his own memories and the memories of those who knew and loved Lily Kilworth and on the iconic contents of a wicker suitcase she took with her everywhere, Charlie pieces together the story of a vivid, mercurial woman whose madness was both a gift and a curse. Conceived and born in a field of wildflowers and meadow grasses, Lily inhabits an idyllic late-Victorian world until the collision of two forces changes her life forever: she becomes entranced with fire and the terrifying freedom it unleashes in her mind; and, when her mother unexpectedly marries the brother of Lily's dead father, Lily moves with them from her grandparents' farm to the burgeoning metropolis of turn-of-the-century Toronto. As Charlie uncovers the bizarre and triumphant story of his mother, he begins to understand her need to escape, her fear of the voices beckoning from within the flames and her compulsion to heal the walking wounded. When he begins to forgive her for his own childhood, he arrives, finally, at the resolution of his quandaries about fatherhood.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In the genus Novelist, there are several subspecies, including writer, teacher and storyteller. Findley is a storyteller. Winner of numerous honors (including Canada's Governor General's Award for Fiction, for The Wars), he is no spinner of wonderful words but, rather, an extraordinarily gifted teller of tales. As in his several other novels (most recently, Headhunter), here he imagines very particular, not at all common, folk. The focus is on Lily, who spends most of her brief life around the turn of the century touched by a hybrid of epilepsy, insanity and grace. Lily is conceived upon the first and only meeting of her mother, Ede, with an angelic traveling piano salesman named Tom; though fully intending to marry Ede, he dies "in a sea of horses" months before Lily's birth. Within a few years, Ede marries Tom's older brother and transforms into a proper, run-of-the-mill urban matriarch. Before long, Lily's condition is discovered. She is first locked in the attic whenever guests arrive, then sent off to a school for "different" girls-but not before she falls for a reasonable facsimile of her father, a Cinderella-like boy/man, nicknamed Lizzie, who is the much younger brother of Lily's father. Before the novel's end, Lizzie dies as well, as does another Tom, raising the only real problem in this otherwise wholly involving work: that the good too predictably die young. By way of extremely close interior perambulations through his characters in the mind and voice of Lily's son, Charlie, Findley views the image of the general through the lens of the particular, offering everything a reader could want from a vaguely romantic multigenerational saga. Film rights to Whoopi Goldberg. (May)
Library Journal
In this new work, a best seller in Findley's native Canada, Charles explores his mother's mysterious past in order to discover the origins of her insanity and the identity of his father. In passages full of vivid images and rich descriptions of the natural landscape, he describes the events surrounding his mother's conception and birth (Ede Kilworth falls for the "piano man" at the Queen's hotel and bears an illegitimate daughter), her madness, and his own experiences with her and with the extended family. While this portion of the book is both compelling and thought-provoking, the narrative begins to ramble as Charles focuses on his quest for his father's identity. The mother's story becomes monotonous, and the result of Charles's quest is anticlimactic. Overall, however, this contemplation of the human condition has much to offer. Recommended for public libraries, especially those collecting Canadian literature.-Rebecca A. Stuhr-Rommereim, Grinnell Coll. Libs., Ia.
Kirkus Reviews
An enticing romantic melodrama—about a beautiful, doomed woman and her varied effects on those who love her and struggle to save her—from Canadian author Findley (Headhunter, 1994; Stones, 1990, etc.).

Lily Kilworth is remembered with affectionate wariness by her illegitimate son, Charlie, following her death (in 1939) in a fire in an Ontario asylum. Marshalling his own memories of her, together with information elicited from others, Charlie pieces together his mother's family background and history in a fervent attempt to learn the identity of his father and to understand Lily's mysteriously divided nature. It's a sweeping story, beginning in 1889 with the seduction of Lily's mother Edith ("Ede") by a traveling piano-salesman, her lover's accidental death, and Ede's later marriage to his brother; the narrative bristles thereafter with a succession of passionate surrenders to impulse, grievous illnesses, untimely deaths, and recurring signs of Lily's "madness"—in part the inherited "falling sickness" (or epilepsy) that keeps her forever on the fringes of respectable society. Life in Canada from the 1890's to the 1930's is evoked in convincing detail, and Findley's characterizations are both effectively specific and satisfyingly opaque. But it's all a bit too self-consciously Brontëan (there is, in fact, a revealing allusion to this influence in the names given a trio of housemaids). Tramplings by horses, convulsions, brain tumors, premonitions of death by fire, among other excesses, make for an overheated narrative—even granting the central presence of a heroine who once "absolutely believed Elizabeth Barrett Browning was in possession of her being." We feel the fascination Lily Kilworth exerts over people, but we never fully believe the gothic circumstances that overtake them.

No great shakes as a literary performance but, nonetheless, a generally absorbing saga that will probably be much in evidence around the beaches this summer. It's a cut above R.F. Delderfield and Daphne du Maurier, and one or two below Jane Eyre.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780864922038
  • Publisher: Goose Lane Editions
  • Publication date: 9/1/1997
  • Series: Between the Covers Collection Series
  • Format: Cassette
  • Edition description: First edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 1
  • Product dimensions: 4.30 (w) x 5.60 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Timothy Findley is one of Canada's best-loved and most enduring writers. He is the author of numerous best-selling novels, short story collections and plays. His awards include the Governor General's Award for Fiction, the Edgar Award, and the Canadian Booksellers Assocation Author of the Year Award. Timothy Findley divides his time betwen his new Stratford, Ontario, home and the south of France. His best-selling novels include The Wars, Not Wanted on the Voyage, Headhunter, and The Telling of Lies. Timothy Findley was born in 1930 in Toronto. As a young man, he studied dance and later, with considerable success, acting. With his third novel, The Wars (1977), Findley received both recognition as a major Canadian writer and the Governor General's Award. During this early stage of his writing career, Findley also wrote scripts for television, radio, and film. Findley's work has been widely translated and he has achieved and international reputation. His awards and honours include the Canadian Authors Association Award, the Order of Canada, and the Trillium Award, and he has been appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada.

Colm Feore's understanding of The Piano Man's Daughter brings this story to life. With numerous awards for his stage and film roles, Feore is a classically trained actor and a mainstay of the Stratford Festival stage, Canada's leading Shakespearean company. Feore also appears in feature films and on network television. Recent credits include the role of Legion in Stephen King's Storm of the Century. He has also appeared in The Red Violin, 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould, City of Angels, Face Off, Airborne, Critical Care, and Night Falls on Manhattan.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

I had seen her just the day before -- a day of pale blue skies and summer breezes. We had stood on the lawns beneath the chestnut trees and she had said: the leaves are talking to me, Charlie.

Yes.

There were wooden chairs and tables painted green. At some of the tables, other patients sat with their relatives. Only relatives were allowed to visit -- relatives or deputized lawyers who came with pieces of paper requiring signatures.

"Do you remember Ada? She used to play the piano at The Duke of York when pictures were still silent."

Lily put this question every time I went to see her.

"Yes," I said.

"There she is, sitting thinking Neddy is going to come and take her away. You remember Neddy?"

Yes. He played the violin and wore a bow-tie. He had been in love with Lily.

"I sometimes think he may still turn up," she said, her gaze averted. "After all, we only know he went missing."

No. We knew he was dead. I said nothing.

Her hand went up to shade her eyes when she said this. Not to keep them out of the sun, but to align her focus. I could tell by the expression on her face that she was looking directly into the past, where most of us-she thought-had gone.

"The time will come," she said, "when there will have to be a gathering-everyone brought together in one safe place . . ." She dropped her hand and squinted at the near distance, where a wall defined her confinement. "This is not a safe place, Charlie," she said. "In spite of its being an asylum."

No.

"People like me, I guess we aren't safe anywhere."

No.

"Not in this world."

No.

Then, in thatway she had of telling reality to go to hell, she smiled. "But you and I don't live in this world. Do we."

No. We don't.

"Thank god," I added.

She took my hand and said to me: "you look good today, Charlie." "Thank you."

"If only we knew who your father was, he could come to the gathering, too."

"The gathering?"

"Yes. The one I just spoke of-all of us brought together . .

Yes.

"Do you mind not knowing who he was?" she said.

I lied and said: no, because that was what she needed to hear. Lily had never known who my father was. It was not a part of the information she had been handed about her own life. It was one of the reasons she was there in that asylum-her passion for strangers-her belief that we have to put our trust in them-even offer them our lives, if we must. It doesn't mean they will take them, Charlie, she would say. If you give a life, you get one.

Maybe.

"You know why you look so good today, Charlie?" she asked.

Now, she was being her old mischievous self. She took my arm in both her hands and smiled up into my face. She could break your heart with that riveting gaze and her lips with their crooked, childlike smile. I almost had to look away. But she held me from it with her eyes.

"No," I said. "Tell me."

"You look like a boy I was in love with, once. I don't remember his name, but I know that you are his, and that's enough. What is it people say? Everything tbat goes around, comes around? Is that right?"

"Yes."

"Well, you've come around for me, Charlie. And you've brought him with you-whoever he was."

The smile had begun to fade.

"Shall we sit?" she said. "Or shall we walk?"

"Walk," I said. I wanted to get away from the little green chairs and tables and all the other families who had come to be with their people. And the sight of Lily's friend Ada, sitting alone and looking with expectant eyes at every young man who passed. Are you my son Neddy?

No, ma'am.

Lily, my mother, held to my arm, and we went in further beneath the trees until we were all the way past the tables and walking on the grass.

"That's not the kind of gathering I mean," said Lily, as if she had read my distress at the sight of all the hopeless others. "At the gathering I mean, we will all be brought together into one safe place. And we will dance."

There it was: her catechism. One safe place. The gathering. And dance. Lily dancing -- and song.

We went out over the lawns and stood, then, looking back at where we had been. Her hand on my arm held tighter. Her other hand went up to pull at the brim of her hat. It was odd. I swear I heard her say: good-bye, Cbarlie-- but when I looked, her mouth was setand she was silent.

The next day, I was awakened by a phone call. It was 7:00 A.M., and they wanted me to come and identify her body.

She had died by fire as she had lived, in a circle of strangers. For once, she had made no attempt to escape. Her running -- at long last -- came to its end in the Asylum for the Insane at Whitby, Ontario, on Monday, the seventeenth of July, 1939. One month after her forty-ninth birthday.

The Piano Man's Daughter. Copyright © by Timothy Findley. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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