Thursday, July 16, 2009

Don't get distracted by the plot

The Wonder Singer
by George Rabasa

Mark Lockwood is a hack. He's a writer without pretension, happy to be making a living. But now he's somehow landed the writing job of all time--ghostwriter of the autobiography of legendary opera diva Merce Casals. Suddenly he has a real investment in his work.

The story of Senora Casals life and work is a major thread throughout the novel. As she relays the triumphs and tragedies of her life, Mark develops a genuine affection for the sometimes difficult lady. And, bored in his marriage, it's an affection of a different sort he holds for her attractive nurse, Perla. All is going well until La Casals up and dies on them.

Suddenly her biography is a hot property. Lockwood's manager wants to reassign the book to a more high profile biographer, and he wants Lockwood to surrender the recordings he and Casals made together. It is at this point that the novel veers off into what might be condsidered farcical territory, with an oversized drag queen added to the troupe of biographers on the run.

The story is interesting on multiple levels--first, simply, for the grand operatic background. And George Rabasa has created a memorable tribe of characters that stick with the reader for some time. However it was here that Rabasa and I ran into trouble. I continually got caught up in the action of The Wonder Singer, and time and time again it became obvious to me that the author was writing a novel about character, not about plot. He hammered it home: character, not plot. And if you read the novel with that in mind, you'll be satisfied. Silly thing that I am, I kept getting distracted by the plot, which led to a somewhat unsatisfying conclusion.

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