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This undefined lack plagues the materially rich protagonist parents of Music as they struggle with feelings of emptiness and longing in their beautiful house filled with beautiful things—and two lovely sons. One finds right away that it is the sons who are most conspicuously forgotten, most strangely unable to move the parents or provide the affective fullness they so clearly lack, especially the younger Sammy, whose tender pleas to his parents for help go unheard throughout the novel. Instead, they take solace in consciously infantile acts in which they reject their parental nonidentities in favor of mimicking the rebelliousness of adolescence.

One suspects this adolescent behavior brings them a great deal of comfort, in that it is the closest they can get to a kind of authenticity, an acting out of exactly how lost and unformed they feel. As in White Noise, such behavior necessitates that the children occupy the role of responsibility vacated by the adults.

From the beginning, then, the children in Music for Torching operate as a sign of loss, of what has been present but has been forgotten. Its suburbia is not filled with ruminations on technologies of mediation. In Music, home as a nurturing nest for the family is a construct requiring exhaustive maintenance work.

Indeed Mrs. Nielson turns out to be an enthusiastic lesbian who introduces Elaine to a silver-studded leather dildo harness as her dryer buzzes dutifully in the laundry room. Such sly conversion of fifties housewife to dirty-talking lesbian adulteress insists that by the late twentieth century, images of happy nuclear families can only operate as covers for the shocks and even grotesqueries that lie beneath14 as memorably filmed first in Blue Velvet, , and more recently in American Beauty, The alternative they choose is to abandon this immense responsibility and indulge in exactly the kind of apathetic decadence that an unreal world invites, or demands.

For Paul and Elaine, then, it is hard to be an upstanding adult, virtually impossible to be a helpful and caring parent. Striking out against their house, central symbol of the demands upon them of the domestic, is only the beginning. In response to this boredom they attack not just the house but themselves and each other, in vain attempts to make themselves feel again.

Both begin affairs—Elaine with Mrs. And though the narrative with its transgressions and disjunctions seems appropriately unconventional for a domestic novel at the end of the twentieth century, its conventionality lies in the price these two must pay for their childishness at the end of the novel, and in the clear warnings of this price that coexist throughout the narrative with the carelessness of its two protagonists.

Taken together, these moments and many others depict an innocent boy feeling threatened and scared and unable to articulate that threat; they depict parents given every indication that something is wrong but giving none of themselves to figure out what that might be.


The goal is not to be left alone, not to be left old, poor, and on the street. Everyone thinks it could happen to them, everyone worries that they might drift so far from reality as not to be welcomed back—think of bag ladies, men living on steam grates, the Montgomery boy. Paul and Elaine are left alone with the grill. Music —12 With this new appreciation for the frailty of their grasp on community in mind, the grill becomes a liability, something to be lidded in a clear gesture of protecting their newly valued house.

And finally, she breathes deeply into the neck of her younger child as she tucks him in, absorbing the beauty and sweetness that have, for the course of the novel, eluded her.


ISBN 13: 9780688167110

She says a prayer for his safety. But instead she adds the odd number eleven in which she defies all the possibility for peace and recovery just offered. They are the words of a boy wanting to protect his home like a man, trying to do, in the wrong way, the one thing that none of the adults in this novel has given much thought to. Sammy is a sacrifice. It is as if he is reenacting filmed scenes that have flashed through his head, unprocessed and not comprehended.

At this late point in the novel, Homes seems finally to foreground condemnation of the media in her accusation of the parents: of course, it seems impossible to construct home as a safe haven when the media constructs a world full of meaningless violence and equally meaningless narratives, and whose only fulfillment comes from simulation and consumption. It forces a reexamination of the home, of the domestic, of parental roles, and it forces an acknowledgment that our culture that breeds violence18 while devaluing parental responsibility requires this reexamination.

The home is no longer a haven from culture but as social critics like Robert Inchausti, David Cheal, and Christopher Lasch claim for society at large rather a reflection of, or constitutive element in, the culture industry from which it was meant to protect us—equally deadening, equally murderous. So when the call comes, and when the shots are fired, they do not surprise us but rather neatly become the terrible thing that Sammy has feared all along, and to which all of his hints have pointed.

With that strikingly blatant declaration of closure, the novel reveals the degree to which these two conservative transformations depend on each other. The conversion of disaffected individuals into grieving parents comes as a shockingly traditional ending for what had been a banally postmodern narrative, a recuperation of sorts in its return to both closure and affect.

It does so by reaching back in another, larger way to a prepostmodernist narrative convention of sacrifice whose inherent system of morality and meaning-making transforms the entirety of the novel into a progression of readable signs, culminating neatly in a powerful event whose consequences bring everything into focus, and thus confounding every readerly expectation established until the moment of sacrificial conversion. So the ending is shocking for the same reason that it satisfies: it allows us to find the book meaningful, to believe it has something to say, that it makes sense.

Ultimately, the novel offers a kind of painful, backwards optimism.

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It constructs a world containing enough inherent moral Downloaded by [Mary Holland] at 09 December measure that parents who behave as Elaine and Paul do must pay. While more structurally loose then Music—the chapterless novel consists of uncollected fragments set off by spaces—This Book announces itself as even more thematically traditional from the start, accruing bits of character transformation that aim unapologetically at a series of satisfying narrative closures.

In this way, This Book intensifies the startling stylistic and thematic contrast established by Music, with its series of seemingly meaningless events capped by a narratively recuperating death. In fact, This Book makes almost clumsily explicit the Albee allusion made so subtly by Music. Thus reading This Book on the heels of Music feels akin to putting on a pair of corrective lenses: the later novel brings into sharp, undeniable focus those elements that define Music primarily through vague insinuation.

Published even only ten years earlier, a novel called This Book Will Save Your Life could expect to be read as wholly ironic. So the first thing we have to understand about this novel is that it comes at us, title first, with eager and unexpected earnestness. It also comes to us promising to do that thing that postmodernism generally refuses to do, that wonderfully comforting thing that poststructural novels make us yearn for and miss, daring to indulge in nostalgia against all postmodern reason: it promises to be exactly what it is, to do what it says it will do, not to empuzzle language or resist meaning but simply to denote.

Almost a thesis statement, the title tells us that this book Will Save Your Life, then proceeds to unfurl a story in which lives are indeed saved, carrying the precision of the title into the narrative itself. Such salvation is possible here because, as we see in the title, language works, some things are knowable and communicable, and so the lives of the characters, like the narrative itself, can add up to something meaningful.

The protagonist of the novel is Richard Novak, an outrageously wealthy man living at a near-top rung of that most visible of status ladders, the Los Angeles hills. Able to protect and grow his fortune simply by making a few well-chosen trades daily, Richard is a man with nothing but time, which he fills in various expensive and unfulfilling ways.

Daily visits by a housekeeper, Downloaded by [Mary Holland] at 09 December personal trainer, and nutritionist who brings all his carefully prepared food provide him no sense of social connection, which he seems to derive primarily from watching, every morning, a woman in a red bathing suit swimming laps in her pool a couple houses below his on the hill.

Music For Torching | The New Yorker

When he meets her by crashing a party at her house, however, she deeply disappoints him, destroying the fantasy relationship that had, pitifully, sustained him. When the novel opens, Richard has just returned home from the hospital after experiencing an enormous, terrifying pain, of no specific origin in time or in his body.

Thus, Homes opens her novel by presenting Richard in a by-now classic stance of postmodern, late-capitalist, narcissistic isolation: He stands at the point of the house, where two thick panes of glass meet, a sharp corner jutting out over the hill like the prow of a ship. He stands—captain, lord, master, prisoner of his own making. Ahead, in the distance, there is something orange and smoky; it takes him a moment to decide—brush fire or simply dawn in Los Angeles?

At this point, only two pages in, the novel has already placed itself in conversation with a larger context of postmodern fiction, adopting an impenetrably flat, toneless prose and stuttering, repetitive sentence structure that call to mind much of eighties and nineties postmodern fiction—especially White Noise, which maintains this kind of voiceless opaqueness arguably more consistently and perfectly than any other novel. But I will argue that This Book, like Music, invokes DeLillo and a typical late twentieth-century writing style, a media-saturated domestic setting, and, most interestingly, an exploration of the ambiguity and arbitrariness of signs, specifically to work against our learned expectations of postmodern fiction.

Publisher's Summary

As characters move through the world in pursuit of these, that world comes to look increasingly like the landscape made so familiar by late twentieth- century postmodern fiction, in which signs and signifieds proliferate but without pointing to each other in any specific, meaningful ways. Also reminiscent of White Noise, Richard, in great pain and believing he is dying, stumbles through an absurd conversation with a voice on the other end of an emergency line, responding obliquely to questions that seem largely to miss the point of his call while enacting some kind of systematic response to emergencies in categorizing, unhelpful Downloaded by [Mary Holland] at 09 December ways.

Later, in an elevator, Richard is impersonally questioned by a voice that is being beamed via waves and radiation—or in this case, via satellite—from Burbank — But This Book reaches back even further than the mediated, impersonal divine of DeLillo, pointing to at least one other text that helped to establish the characteristics we have come to expect of a postmodern literary landscape. The signs, stapled to telephone poles up and down the highway, may or may not be linked to a series of trash-can fires.

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At the same time, alongside these inhuman voices and unsignifying signs comes a warning against the flip side of the crisis of signification: not just the multiplication of signifiers, but also the multiplication of seeming signifieds, or meanings behind and connections between signs. DeLillo represented this threat best in The Names , with his cult that killed people simply because their initials matched the towns in which they were murdered, celebrating the absolute arbitrariness of the sign by constructing seeming order and meaning out of coincidence.

This Book makes a similar formulation—though, in true Homes style, less bloody and more ridiculous: happening upon a meeting between Harrison Ford and Gerald Ford in an L. For at its heart—and this is a book that has a heart—This Book describes, promotes, and proceeds by way of transformation. Meanwhile, forced off his hilltop and down into the masses of L.

The end of the book finds Nic, having just finished his novel, flying to visit the parents he has not seen in years. In all of these transformations, Richard assists, often instrumentally. And like his more immediately impacting experience rescuing the woman in the car, all of these experiences lead him to sense the profound ways in which helping others to change causes changes in himself.

And then, quite uncharacteristically for a postmodern novel, this thing he wants—this image of himself he chases, like J. Gladney and his borrowed suit21—ultimately matches exactly the reality of his life. By the end of the novel, Richard has acquired a dog, a son, a meditation predilection and a gym habit, a donut shop franchise whose goods he vows to deliver daily from store to store, and a dozen elderly people he imagines himself visiting, arms laden with healthy meals.

It is lines and Downloaded by [Mary Holland] at 09 December values such as these, pointedly repeated throughout the novel, that Oprah would love to dispense to the American public via prominent displays in bookstores everywhere. Alongside aiding Cynthia and Nic in their reconnections with parents and children, Richard experiences his own most meaningful transformation when he builds a relationship with his estranged son Ben, who, having just graduated high school, had had no real contact with his father since being left as a small child. When the boy arrives in L. The novel does stop short of abandoning postmodern uncertainty altogether, by allowing an only partial recuperation of the original family made by Ben, Richard, and his ex-wife.

But in the end the novel answers this devotion with a work-absorbed, hard-edged character clearly uninterested in and unworthy of that devotion: when she comes to L. Attacked in her Manolos by a pack of wild Chihuahuas! She is indefatigable, impenetrable, unstoppable. And though this woman who is so driven by work and physical perfection that she can barely see or hear her own son and ex-husband proves to be the one character incapable of change, the simple physical reunion of the three brings its own meaning-rich moment, grossly limited, but very real all the same: And although there is a great and likely unbridgeable divide between the three of them, there is also a sense they are together, there for each other as much as they can bear to be, and though it might not be the fullness that one wants, and though it might not be enough, it is something, it is more than nothing.

For, whereas the most distinctive feature of the threats that plague those fictions—death, and domestic terror—is their featurelessness, their shapelessness, their resistance to definition and articulation,22 This Book unquestionably and repeatedly links the pain that motivates its narrative to the loss of family connections. That is, it defines the terror in an immediately meaningful and narratively recuperable way. By the time Richard has begun to rebuild these relationships in earnest, he recognizes the path the pain has put him on. Lost at sea. He went to a hotel.

He went to a hotel, lay down, and thought he would die. There was the crippling stillness, the absence of oxygen, the physical pain. He remembers physical pain. With so many random results of the choices he has made—table top, condom—coming to his aid, the novel suggests the ultimate antipostmodern optimism, that this is a world in which things seem to happen for a reason.

Here, they happen in order to enable him both to survive and to connect with those who are important to him. This he does, not only through the cell phone but also via satellite, as his ex-wife and son watch on the news, live from New York, Richard floating at sea. Richard has learned from his mistakes, done good deeds, reached outside himself to help others, and for this he is rewarded. In this way, This Book takes the backwards optimism implied by Music—that there is enough inherent moral measure in the universe that parents who behave as Paul and Elaine do must pay—and turns it into a more direct, forward-thinking optimism, demonstrating that if one does the right things, one can redeem oneself, and help others as well.

The Realism of Postmodern Families At bottom, I am arguing that Homes gives us frameworks with which to make her novels Downloaded by [Mary Holland] at 09 December meaningful in a different way than, say, DeLillo or Pynchon does. Their more thoroughly stylisti- cally and thematically postmodern novels, which do not abandon the notion of centerlessness and indeterminacy that characterize the thinking and culture of the era, make sense and become meaningful only if we throw away the old frameworks that originally allowed novels to be meaningful, namely, character development and conflict leading to narrative resolution, usually in the guise of formed or rebuilt relationships, often in the form of families.

You know they will whine instead. You know something awful is going to happen to them, and the only question is what. The publisher is giving this book a big promotional push, and I could not help but think this would be more effective if the material had been edited down to about half its length. Music for Torching, by A. Homes, Seattle Times. Leave a Reply Cancel reply. What's on your mind?

Music for Torching, by A.M. Homes, Seattle Times

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Music for Torching

Seller Inventory MX. Never used!. Seller Inventory PX. Quarter Cloth. Dust Jacket Condition: New. First Edition. First edition. Black quarter cloth over dark gray boards, textured endpapers, rough-cut pages, pp. This book lays bare the foundations of marriage and family life at the end of the century.

Flash-frozen in the anxious culture of a suburban subdivision, Paul and Elaine have two boys and a beautiful home, yet they find themselves thoroughly, inexplicably stuck. The author creates characters so outrageously flawed and deeply human that they are entirely believable.

The Making of "Music for Torching: Billie Holiday sings I Don't Want to Cry Anymore (2 Takes) [1955]

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