`Upright Piano Player' is gracefully constructed

The Associated Press, Wednesday, June 8, 2011, 7:50am (PDT)

"The Upright Piano Player" (Nan A. Talese), by David Abbott: David Abbott's quietly devastating debut novel, "The Upright Piano Player," centers on Henry Cage, a successful, respected business executive floundering a bit in the wake of his retirement.

We first meet Henry on his way to a funeral, in the aftermath of a shocking and gruesome accident. Abbott then backtracks five years, on the cusp of the new millennium, as Henry is beginning to adjust to retired life.

A random violent encounter on New Year's Eve leads to escalating acts of harassment, which mostly embarrass rather than frighten Henry as he's got other things to worry about: his ex-wife's illness is getting more serious, and he's cautiously starting to rebuild a relationship with his son, who now has a son of his own.

The narrative jumps around among Henry and a number of other disparate characters — his ex, his son and daughter-in-law, his former business colleagues and the man who persists in stalking him — and the effect underscores the current of loss and sorrow running throughout the novel: Everyone is in their own protected, isolated sphere, both yearning for and fearful of reaching out.

It makes the moments of actual meaningful connection all the more moving — if not utterly heartwrenching — and the moments when characters reject such connections both tragic and, in one instance, brutally disturbing. Aside from the handful of violent acts, this is not a story with a lot of fireworks. It moves slowly and deliberately in delicate elegiac prose, gracefully constructed and wholly consuming.

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