With an open, breezy style reminiscent of Kate Chopin's, this first novel, set in Baltimore, tells the story of a young woman who knows she must develop strong wings in order to fly against the winds of tradition, male oppression and, most challengingly, her own fears. The thin, shy, piano-playing protagonist, Sylvia, has hands of fire at the keyboard but struggles to put some courage in her heart. Sylvia experiences a near-compulsion that draws her to the piano again and again. What, she needs to know, drives this obsession? Is it the gift of artistic passion? Is it the child prodigy's fear of ending in failure? Is is the pressure she feels from the ``fathers'' she finds in Beethoven, in her ``huffing and snorting'' piano instructor and in her own biological father? Moon Ja Koh, a famous Korean-American pianist, symbolizes one way Sylvia's life can turn out. Moon Ja has pursued her career with an unrelenting, implacable will, but when she begins to detect the Brahmsian strains of her own mortality, she reflects on her life and is flattened by what she discovers. The spinsterish piano teacher, Katerina Haupt, represents another path that Sylvia can follow. Huston, who writes in the present tense, quotes Sidney Lanier: ``Music is love in search of a word''; by the time Sylvia, gives the important recital for which she spends most of the novel preparing, she has come closer to divining her own definitions of both music and love. (July)
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
For Sylvia, a young pianist studying in Baltimore with the fierce but highly regarded Toft, being gifted has become a curse. Struggling with Beethoven's mighty 32nd sonata, terrified of her teacher and terrified of disappointing her parents, she's beginning to wonder whether she can make it as a performer. True, she has her friend Peter and roommate Marushka, but then she and Marushka are savagely mugged on the way to an audition, and Marushka heads home to Kiev. She's also warming to a young Czech pianist who obviously adores her when she rather unconvincingly lets herself be seduced by the conservatory's resident cad. Soon she discovers she is pregnant, and she's facing a big decision about the baby-and a year-end recital for which she hardly feels prepared. First novelist Huston writes nicely and fields a large, interesting cast of characters, but the plot develops too predictably and the characters don't always seem real. Still, Huston's discussion of Sylvia's efforts to break free of her own inhibition-artistic and otherwise-can be engrossing. A genial addition to large collections.-Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal"
In this lyrical, completely enthralling debut novel, Huston celebrates the maturing of a naive and sheltered young pianist into a self-possessed woman to whom the mysteries of love, friendship, and betrayal are revealed. A special gift for music has led Sylvia to study with an esteemed if impossibly contrary teacher, away from the security of home and her parents' loving concern. Huston's novel is imbued with a passionate resonance as Sylvia struggles to play Beethoven's opus 111 to the approval of her elderly maestro, while looming bleakly in the distance is her final recital. Ultimately, Sylvia's encounters with other conservatory students, including Jan, who loves her, and David, who loves only himself, contribute to the anguish around which some painful but necessary lessons are learned, allowing Sylvia to guide her own destiny.