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Music for Wartime: Stories by Rebecca Makkai
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Music for Wartime: Stories

by Rebecca Makkai

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Music for Wartime by Rebecca Makkai

A literary symphony of history and fable, loss and remembrance, Music for Wartime echoes the work of magical realism’s Eastern European masters even as it creates a milieu all its own, one in which both the European and American experiences are featured, at times separately, at others in various levels of concert.

Chicago’s Rebecca Makkai is an exceptional writer, one able to move seamlessly between not just cultures of Old World and New, but registers as diverse as faerie tale and contemporary comedy. Possibly the most stunning attribute of Makkai’s work, though, is its consistent humanity, the clarity with which she sees the hybrid of joy and sadness that is human life.

Given that Makkai was featured in Best American Short Stories four years running (2008-2011), and that the selected stories (“The Worst You Ever Feel,” “The Briefcase,” “Painted Ocean, Painted Ship,” and “Peter Torrelli, Falling Apart”) are all included here, you might expect Music for Wartime to feel a little like a greatest hits album, a collections of classics mixed with a few relatively weak, newer pieces, the whole fitted uneasily into a book.

This isn’t the case. Makkai’s newer material is every bit the equal of her BASS stories. More than that (or, perhaps, again, in concert with it) Music for Wartime does indeed feel musical (a la Kundera), a symphony of past and present, light and dark, tiny fables intermingled with the sort of longer stories we traditionally think of in connection with the short story form. Though this is neither a linked collection nor a novel-in-stories, somehow Music for Wartime feels incredibly cohesive, a piece of art beyond the sum of its parts. The obvious conclusion being that this alchemy is just another byproduct of Makkai’s immense talent.

http://www.thenervousbreakdown.com/kbaumeister/2016/08/the-nervous-breakdowns-re... ( )
  kurtbaumeister | Oct 25, 2017 |
Oh golly, this is good.

My review for Bookpage here: http://bookpage.com/reviews/18514-rebecca-makkai-music-wartime ( )
  laurenbufferd | Nov 14, 2016 |
For lovers of the short story genre, please see Rebecca Makkai's collection Music for Wartime. The characters in these tales are so original and imaginative, and the various worlds that Makkai portrays are riddled with aspects of history, folklore, and contemporary thought. The stories and situations are so diverse -- a touring cellist comes home to find a memorial in her front lawn for the recent death of a teenage motorcyclist, the beloved elephant of a traveling circus suddenly dies and must be buried by a small-town minister who is doubting his faith, a college professor teaching Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner ironically shoots an albatross -- and the range of topics and people and detail that Makkai masterfully conveys is undeniably impressive. ( )
  auroragoryalice | Dec 25, 2015 |
Started the e-galley in April 2015, but the font was too tiny and I was on a bus. Very glad I picked it up again once it came out in print.

Quotes

From "The November Story"
The loneliest thing in the world is lying awake beside someone asleep. (30)

The glorious present tense - that blindest of tenses, ignoring all context, all past and future failures. (31)

From "The Miracle Years of Little Fork"
Every move, every flick of the eyes, was finely orchestrated. There were hearts being broken tonight. You just couldn't tell whose.

From "The Briefcase"
History was safer than the news, because there was no question of how it would end. (65)

From "Couple of Lovers on a Red Background"
I wonder if...there's something intrinsically horrifying about our modern world, about this new century, something we can handle only because we've been so slowly inured to it. (102)

From "Cross"
There were musicians who never looked up from their hands or their instruments, but she'd seen quartets of straight men gaze at each other like they were making love. (162)

He was a perfect example of what her grandmother had always said: After forty, you look how you deserve to. (164)

She wanted to ask if he thought he was in a movie, that he could just show up at someone's door expecting love or sex or friendship, or whatever he was after. But there were worse kinds of movie. (172-173)

From "Suspension: April 20, 1984"
Is chronology character? (196)

From "The Museum of the Dearly Departed"
"We take most everything at face value. Otherwise how could we get by?" (201)

The two reactions [grief and rage] had stalemated each other. She was an abandoned chessboard. (201)

Outside, there was a cascade of sirens - someone else's emergency - and then they passed. (221) ( )
  JennyArch | Sep 3, 2015 |
second story. The worst you ever feel. A young violinist watching a master play after years in a Romanian prison, is able to tell from the music what the man went through. Quite good.

Third story , November. A reality show where the contestants are all artists of some kind. All sent to an artist's colony to live together. Every week has a theme and every week someone is eliminated. A good look at the behind scene staging of these shows and how it can rub off into personal lives.

4th story, The Miracle Years, a drought ridden town and a dead elephant bring about a crisis of faith for the town minister. Not a favorite.

6th story. The Suitcase. A man exchanges lives with another man in an unusual way with unusual results.

7th Peter Torrelli Falling apart. Two young men both homosexuals meet in school. One is a very good actor and become a Chicago star until suddenly his acting ability leaves him. Chicago and Berghoffs how can this one miss.

Couple of lovers on a red background. After hearing noises in her piano for weeks, the owner is surprised when a 10 inch Bach jumps out and runs onto her broom closet.

Everything we know bout the bomber, a man who sets off a bomb is scrutinized from youth on. Why did he do it seems to be the question?

Painted Ocean, Painted Ship. A college professor who teaches "Rhyme of the ancient mariner" mistakenly shoots an albatross while visiting Australia, with unforeseen circumstances. A favorite.

Exposition, Instead of leaving for a refugee camp and safety a young pianist stays to perform one last concert.

Cross, a woman cellist arrives home to find a tacky looking display with a cross in front of her tree.

I've posted a description of most of the stories in this fine collection. All were immensely readable, though "Painted Ocean, Painted Ship remains my favorite. Truly wonderful stories all.

ARC from publisher. ( )
  Beamis12 | Jul 11, 2015 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0525426698, Hardcover)

A spellbinding short story collection from a master of the form, the acclaimed author of The Hundred-Year House

Rebecca Makkai’s first two novels, The Borrower and The Hundred-Year House have established her as one of the freshest and most imaginative voices in fiction. Now, the acclaimed writer returns with a highly anticipated collection of short stories marked with her signature mix of intelligence, wit, and heart.

A reality show producer manipulates two contestants into falling in love, while her own relationship falls apart. Just after the fall of the Berlin Wall, a young boy has a revelation about his father’s past when a renowned Romanian violinist plays a concert in their home. In an unnamed country, a composer records the folk songs of two women from a village on the brink of destruction.

Makkai has been anthologized four times in The Best American Short Stories as well as The Best American Nonrequired Reading. These wide-ranging and deeply moving stories—some inspired by her family history—will delight her many fans, as well as readers of Lorrie Moore, Jim Shepard, and Karen Russell.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:02 -0400)

Presents a collection of wide-ranging, evocative short stories, including several inspired by the author's family history or featuring protagonists whose lives are shaped by irony.

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