Wednesday, February 15, 2012

THE SONG IS YOU by Arthur Phillips

After a mind-numbing 100 pages, our middle-aged protagonist, Julian Donahue, embarks on a fascinating, bizarre courtship of Cait O'Dwyer, a beautiful young Irish singer.  Their passion plays out in a sort of dance or chess match that begins when Julian provides Cait with useful anonymous tips on how to enhance her career in music.  The two are drawn to each other without actually coming face to face, invading one another's privacy in a tantalizing series of non-encounters.  While Cait is writing and performing songs that allude to Julian's advice and attentions, Julian is grieving the death of his young son, which led to the dissolution of his marriage.  As each scheduled rendezvous fails to result in an actual meeting, the pressure builds on Julian to ensure that the situation is perfect when they finally get together.  The plot teeters on the intriguing "will they or won't they" question, leading to the ultimate crossing of signals, which reminded me of O. Henry's "The Gift of the Magi."  Misunderstandings and miscues abound, and I felt every ounce of Julian's nervous longing and frustration, compounded by his suspicion that perhaps he is just an over-the-hill obsessed fan.  Cait's song lyrics are the real guide as to her emotions, and music is certainly an important theme here, with Julian unable to relinquish his iPod when going through airport security.  His father and mother met at a Billie Holiday concert, and there may be parallels between Billie and Cait that I'm not aware of, other than the enchanting effect they had on father and son, respectively, with both their music and their persona.  Several of the side characters manage to embarrass themselves in a comical manner:  Julian's brother, Aidan, who famously blurted out an appalling answer on a national game show; Alec, a has-been musician who also fancies Cait; and Stan, a cop hired by a jealous band member to stop Julian's stalking of Cait.  Whether you're into a music or just looking for a well-written off-kilter love story with a few twists and turns, this book delivers—if you can get past that first 100 pages.

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