Friday, January 20, 2012

Review: The Upright Piano Player by David Abbott

The Upright Piano Player

by David Abbott

Release Date: June 7, 2011

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

272 pages

ISBN: 978-0-385-53442-0

The snow doesn't give a soft white damn whom it touches.

          --E. E. Cummings

Shit happens.

That's the ugly, ineloquent truth in the jumbled mess that is life. Random shit that doesn't make a lick of sense.

Sometimes we discern patterns. We think, if X happened, could that be why Z came along the way it did?

Sometimes it is. Sometimes it isn't.

Often, there's a moment, where it all turns around, upside down, inside out, and the life you're left with looks like a sick joke resembling the one you once had. A very bad dream, where you're watching it unfold one way, screaming from the other side of the soundproof glass, "No! No! No!"

But of course, no one hears you, and the clock can't be turned back.

Henry Cage is an honest, honorable businessman who runs a successful ad agency. Pushed into retirement by a younger generation anxious to do business a different way, Cage finds himself readjusting to his new circumstances. He is estranged from his son, hasn't spoken to his ex-wife in years, and then learns she has terminal cancer, and work is no longer the distraction or engine that keeps him running.

On the eve of the millennium he is the victim of a random act of violence that just keeps on going. His stalker has threatened his carefully constructed existence, and is by turns sending him titillating photos of his young girlfriend and breaking into his house. A new romantic relationship with his former employee, Maude, works for awhile until a revelation forces them to confront their expectations for the future. And when his ex-wife asks him to go to Florida and see her before she dies, he is forced to contend with all his flaws, his mistakes, and the half-truths he tells himself.

Ultimately, one is obliged to question: do we pay for our mistakes in this life, or are the tragedies we experience just random coincidences?

The Upright Piano Man is a novel about the relationship between husband and wife, father and son, public and private personas, and the convergence of our role as both victim and creator of our own destiny. It is about the underlying tension and possibilities of violence in our everyday encounters.

The opening chapter is one of the most breath-taking, heart wrenching, eloquently crafted scenes I've read in a long time. And after I finished it, I had to stop reading and let it absorb for a day or so. This is a title you don't want to rush through. You won't want to read it on a Kindle. You will forge a bond with each physical page, write in the margins, dog ear the hell out of twenty or so pages, and then keep it on the nightstand for whenever.

For those who enjoy fast paced works, this is not for you. If you like concrete answers with a very nicely tied ending, you won't be satisfied with this. This is the stuff of everyday, gut-twisting life: the questions that go unanswered, the haphazard happenings, the quiet calamities.


"Such is the banality of grief: the endless repetition of pointless activity."

"Why does one man's adrenaline go to his legs and another's to his fists? Faced with danger, would he a runner or a fighter?

"As often with tall people, his father walked with his eyes downward as though the ground were treacherous; but now the steps were more tentative and Tom realized that Henry was aging and the knowledge made him gasp."

"[Maude] would joke (only half-joke) that unrequited love is the only kind of love that lasts."