13 June 2012

Barbara Hall. The Music Teacher. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books, 2009.

From Fantastic Fiction.
At its heart, Chatham, Virginia, native Barbara Hall's novel The Music Teacher is about relationships. A teacher's relationship with her student. A wife's relationship with her (ex)husband. A daughter's relationship with her father. A musician's relationship with her instrument. A woman's relationship with her co-workers. A human's relationship to the earth. A person's relationship with herself.

All of these relationships are explored as Pearl Swain (go ahead, get the jokes out of your system now) describes a brief period of her life. A Los Angeles transplant, Pearl grew up in a Danville. As she puts it, "I dream of my past, in Danville, Virginia, and I dream of my future, in Los Angeles, California, and the two worlds don't like each other much" (p. 35). Reading about her situation, it's easy to think about what might have been if maybe her past and her future did like each other. What if her father had embraced her talent with the violin (rather than burning it in a woodpile)? What if she hadn't had miscarriages (and her husband hadn't cheated with a student who was now pregnant with his child)? What if she had just let her exceptionally gifted student, Hallie Bolaris, be simply her pupil (and not her obsession)? If any of these instances were different, would Pearl still be living alone in a trailer with no friends and working a frustrating job in a music shop?

I finished this book last week, and it has taken me a few days to process it. Barbara Hall is a very talented author, and maybe it's her interest in physics and psychology that makes it so deep. There is a good story buried in Pearl's account, although I cannot say that I cared much for our main character. Maybe she was too honest. 

All in all, it was a good book from this Pittsylvanian (that's a word, right?), and I hope to read more by her. I don't usually care much about the physical book, but I really liked the size and shape of The Music Teacher (292 pages, 7.25"x5"). Hall has done really well for herself in the literary world and Hollywood (she even has a Wikipedia page!), but she's not alone: Dark Debts, a novel by her sister, Karen, will be the next book I review. 

Have you read The Music Teacher? Please share your opinion about the book and this summary.

1 comment:

  1. I remember reading it years ago and it still sticks with me.....