Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Highly Recommended: American Music

My first question to my colleague Sue upon her return from a vacation is always the same: "What did you read?" This summer, she came back absolutely enthralled with American Music by Jane Mendelsohn. She handed me her copy like it was a present, and I started it that night.

The writing in this book is so good, so lyrical and so lovely that you can't rush through for the sake of the story. If I hadn't been borrowing Sue's copy, I would have been highlighting every other page. (I do that when I'm taken with a good line -- and then call the book "highlighter worthy.") This is one of the most highlighter worthy books I've read this year.

The story is about an injured Iraq War soldier with deep psychological wounds. He is a patient in a veteran's hospital, where he meets a massage therapist whose hands are like magic. Whenever she touches him, mysterious stories are revealed to both of them as if they're having the same dream. Stories about other lovers in other times, including a story set in the jazz age, where music, time and history blend together in the middle of a swing dance. The book goes back and forth from the developing relationship between the soldier and his therapist, and the stories that unite them. The reader shares their curiosity: what do these stories mean? What do they have to do with the soldier? Maybe the stories will lead to his cure, or lead the the soldier and therapist into love. It's a compelling mystery.

The story is good, but it's the writing that totally got me. When Mendelsohn says, "For a soldier's body is a work of art that contains his country's history," I felt as if all of the honor in the Gettysburg Address has been distilled into one simple sentence. When the therapist says to the soldier: "Your body is like a haunted house . . . . And it seems as though I live there," I could feel their connection down to my bones.

I can't wait to start hearing customer feedback from this book. I expect it will earn a highly devoted following. If you stop in The Bookstore on a Friday when Sue and I are there together, you'll be sure to hear us chatting it up some more. We hope you won't leave The Bookstore without it!

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