Monday, June 1, 2015

2015 #5: Orfeo by Richard Powers

OrfeoOrfeo by Richard Powers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had a hard time getting into this novel because it made me feel conspicuous as a musicologist. The first quarter of the book seemed to be trying too hard to establish its musical street cred, but I understand now…that may have been the point. The protagonist spends his life trying to establish his own credibility, most importantly with himself. There are many references to some of the biggest composers and pieces of the twentieth century, and Powers is very gifted in the artistic and nuanced way he writes about music. By the midpoint of the novel, Peter Els--the main character--seems to adopt a more Cagean-sense of music and Powers, too, seems more comfortable in his prose. He's a tough character, Els--you never really know how to connect to him (and he never really knows how to connect to anyone). He's an Orpheus running from the Underworld, but not to rescue Euridice. The undertow of music pulls at him constantly, and his life cycles through submitting to that force and fighting against it. Powers is masterful in his ability to recount narrative through multiple flashbacks which, at the end, help us understand that we are all fugitives of one sort or another.

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