Monday, May 4, 2009

The Wonder Singer by George Rabasa

Mark Lockwood has a problem. He has been working for over a year with Merce Casals, the famous opera singer, on her memoir. As the book opens, Ms. Casals has passed away in her bathtub, leaving Lockwood with a dilemna. This is the biggest project of his writing career; the project that will make him a household name. He has hundreds of interview tapes, but no manuscript. Now the agent representing both him and Ms. Casals wants to give the project to an established author who will write it quickly to capitalize on Merce's death. Mark decides that he can't do that. Instead, he takes all the tapes, holes up in first a motel and then back home and spends up to twelve hours a day writing in a race with the other author to finish. The first book should make significant money, but an also-ran book will be a fiscal failure.

George Rabasa has done a nice job of telling Ms. Casals's story. She is sold as a little girl in Spain by her father in a poker game to a talent agent. This talent agent paid for her singing lessons and started her career. Casals becomes a legendary diva, her every move followed by fans. She marries another singer, Nolan Keefe, but they have a tumultuous relationship with many infidelities. She leaves him at one point for over five years and has a tabloid-delighting relationship with a jetsetting Prince, but finally returns to Nolan. I found the Casals's story the most absorbing part of the book.

There are also many secondary characters who are important to the plot. Perla, Casals's nurse, becomes part of Lockwood's team while he is writing the book. He fancies himself in love with her, but she puts him off. His wife, Claire, has left him as he becomes more and more obsessed with finishing the project. Casals's husband, Nolan, moves from his retirement home to the apartment where "the team" has assembled. Then there is Orson, a Casals's fan who routinely spends entire days dressed as her in tribute, who moves in to cook for the team and to be close to the story of his idol. This strange group of people come together to pay final tribute to the life of Merce Casals.

Readers who enjoy historical fiction will enjoy this book, although it is not based in fact. Rabasa has created believable characters, each interesting and finely drawn. I enjoyed the look into both the world of opera and into how a book is actually written and how an author goes about his work. This book is recommended for those ready for a good, sink-into-and-forget-the-world experience.

1 comment:

caitlin said...

thank you so much! what a great last line!! those are the kinds of books i always want to read...