Thursday, December 17, 2015
Music For Wartime by Rebecca Makkai
The short story is one of the most challenging formats. In a novel, an author can sprawl a bit, can even get lost for a while before coming back to their main point. In a short story, every word is essential and the structuring must be tight. Rebecca Makkai is a master of the short story, with entries in four consecutive editions of The Best American Short Stories. In Music For Wartime, she brings together seventeen stories written over thirteen years in her debut anthology.
Each story explores a person facing an event that will change them. In one, a traveling circus dies in a small town and the struggle to get it buried tests the faith of the town's pastor. In another, a renowned cellist returns home to find a memorial to a traffic accident has taken over her lawn, as she herself is working through her own attempts to make her life memorable. A woman finds her fiance has a double life when he is killed with his other lover and in her struggle to understand, she finds another couple whose love is unimaginable. A young boy plays a duet in his family's apartment with a famous pianist who has been imprisoned for years by a totalitarian government.
Each story is luminous and each is a perfect gem. The stories vary in length from a page or two to more than thirty pages, yet each seems the correct length. Makkai has written two acclaimed novels, The Borrowers and The Hundred Year House. But she got her start in short fiction and this collection demonstrates to the reader the range and mastery she brings to it. This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and those interested in the short story.