The Music Room by Dennis McFarland was published in 1990. I read it the first time in 1991, and then again at the beginning of August–eighteen years later. I enjoyed it just as much. Here, McFarland could be describing his own writing, instead of a feeling:
“I liked the simple clarity of the feeling. It had the appeal of a primary color; it promised a range of complementary hues to come.”
Over the years I have often remembered how much I enjoyed reading The Music Room. Then in March, at Sirenland, I was hiking up to eat lunch in this great little trattoria, when the person I was hiking with mentioned that her brother-in-law had published several books. Like what, I asked. Well, probably the most famous is The Music Room.
See how he takes these five concrete details and bundles them into a memory:
“The points on the star of this recollection were the red leather of the sofa, its bright gold buttons, the sound of my father’s shoes, his approach in uniform, and the brief, biting taste of suffocation.”
When I got back home, I moved The Music Room from my regular shelf to my little stack of books to reread. There it joined The Heart of the Matter, The Half-Life of Happiness, Beloved, The Rest of Life, and Remembering the Bone House.
Read how he pulls rage out of words:
“You want to know why he didn’t leave a note? Because even to say goodbye is to acknowledge a person.”
Before I could get to it, my friend who reads everything I read plus more asked if she could read it. Yes, she said, it’s still good. And she promptly ordered everything Dennis McFarland has written since then. They’re all great, she reported last week. More books for me to add to my growing list.
Here he turns plain words into poetry:
“In the john, I had a bad case of the shakes, but the roar and rumble of the jet engines saturated me, resonated with my poor jittery cells, which felt like a kind of sympathy.”
Yesterday, I happened upon this blog, which had reprinted this excellent article, “Some Thoughts on the Pleasures of Being a Re-Reader.” (Yes, I’m saying you should actually click away from here to read it. Really.)
“How odd that in this musical family one of my earliest longings is for deafness: the silencing not only of the nocturnal creakings of the Colonial mansion but of the regular jagged peal of breaking glass, of the grownups’ zingers and spiny laughter, and of Father’s terrible, smashed wrong notes.”
Dennis McFarland knows how to tell a story, slipping easily from the past of the central narrative into the present of memory, with all scenes past and present moving relentlessly forward.