**spoiler alert** I read this once but I need to read it again. At least.
I'm tempted to lower the rating; I would do it if I could do half stars. It'**spoiler alert** I read this once but I need to read it again. At least.
I'm tempted to lower the rating; I would do it if I could do half stars. It's more a 3.7 than a 4. The artwork and method of storytelling are beautiful and original and the whole thing was pretty fascinating overall.
However, I found myself feeling hollow and disappointed as I neared the end of the novel. I felt cheated out of this beautiful teenage love experience that I thought was happening throughout. I realize that the content may be open for interpretation, especially since mostly what you get is pictures, photographs or drawings, or fuzzy TV screens, and "documents" or "IM chats" from supposed events.
After reading the novel twice, I still came to the same conclusion. Maybe I'm missing something, and reading it twice is not enough. (For example, there were things that I needed to look up, like who Brecht and lots of the Spanish included in the text.)
(My version of events)
The year after Gloria "Glory" Fleming's mother died (2001, when Glory was 9), she had a nervous breakdown and was sent to Golden Hands Rest Facility, where she stayed until 2009, when she made her escape.
Lonely and in despair, Glory created a vivid fantasy where she still lived at home and her father, Victor, pushed her to become a world-renowned concert pianist. For a while, she was wildly successful and was known in all of the local NYC newspapers as "the Brecht of the piano." Glory's mother, Maria Torres Fleming, was a wine expert who worked for wine distributor W.J. Import-Export, so it's easy enough to see where Glory got her love of wine and Spanish language "tutorials" from. The fantasy continues to become more elaborate, eventually starting to include a boy moving in next door to Glory. His name is Francisco—Frank—Mendoza, a recent transplant from Argentina. He shares his last name with the Mendoza region of wine in Argentina.
Frank starts attending Willard Dunn School For Boys—which, as the reader finds out later, shares the same address and two gold hands holding or shaking each other, as The Golden Hands Rest Facility that Glory apparently didn't started attending until 2009. Frank hates his new school, is bullied and starts fights and challenges authority. He is reluctant to learn English, but excels in art, paintings and drawings which he signs "F. Mendoza". (Because later in the story, there's the parallel of what was happening to Frank at school and what Glory seems to be going through at Golden Hands. Perhaps Glory was really "the Brecht of the Piano" and because of this, she was bullied by her fellow "classmates" or the other patients, so when she "created" Frank, she had him going through the same thing she was going through, so she didn't feel so alone. And from there, Frank grew from just a "friend" to a constant, something real she could believe in and trust in.)
One day, Glory puts a note in his mailbox and invites him to come over, and we get a taste of her large loopy handwriting (while Frank's writing is kind of small and stunted and hard to read). They start a friendship, which develops into a relationship, and they refer to each other only as "F" or "G", and Glory takes to referring to her father (during IM chats with or letters to Frank) as "V" (Victor). They share music; Frank introduces Glory to many Spanish language artists, like Julio Iglesias, one of his mother's favorites. They also seemed to share an interest in Sergio "The Marvel" Martinez, a famous boxer.
Victor eventually whisks Glory away to Europe to start an international tour, which goes swimmingly well (in spite of being so far away from Frank; by then, it's obvious Glory and Frank are in love) until Glory begins a descent: an inability to stop playing Chopsticks—a tune she played at her very first recital when she was 7, the year before her mother died. While Glory is away, the two communicate as through drawings, paintings, IM chats and letters. Finally, Victor brings Glory home and attempts to shop her around NYC again as "The Brecht of the Piano" as she has been. Glory and Frank grow closer and closer to each other, possibly consummating their relationship/love upon Glory's arrival home. There are plenty of snapshots of them together, including the one from the cover of the book. They look like two people very much in love.
While Glory was away in Europe, Frank's problems continued at school. His grades went further down in all of his subjects, except for art, and he had letters sent home from Willard Dunn School. Eventually, Frank is suspended for fighting, causing the contents of his locker to be emptied and sent home—possessing things like Glory's pink shirt with an octopus on it, a pack of gum, condoms, broken art pencils, a picture of Frank and Glory together, and a bloody sweatshirt. Not long after that, Frank is expelled in a letter. The next page shows blood-red writing on what looks like a school hallway that says "This place is a Hell Hole".
Victor decides to have Glory give a private concert to friends and family, and supposedly forbids Frank from coming. Frank shows up and sits on Glory's piano bench as she plays, apparently again playing nothing but Chopsticks. It is supposed that, following this incident, arrangements are made for Glory to enter Golden Hands Rest Facility. But around this point of the novel, everything we the readers thought we knew about what we were reading comes completely unraveled. The Golden Hands Rest Facility papers appear on the same letterhead as did the Willard Dunn School For Boys; one paper suggests that Glory has been at the facility since 2001, or at the very least, in and out of the facility since then. We see Glory at an art class, painting the same yellow flower Frank had supposedly painted and sent to her. On the same letterhead, in what appears to be Glory's handwriting, "this place is a Hell Hole" is scribbled all over the page. A short time later (perhaps) Jo Ann Castle makes a visit to Golden Hands—Jo Ann Castle is seen throughout the novel via fuzzy TV screens, always playing the piano and signs an autograph for Glory, "To the Brecht of the Piano, no guts, no glory." Following this, Golden Hands shows a boxing match between Sergio "The Marvel" Martinez and Paul "The Punisher" Williams. It appears Glory spends the match sewing felt letters onto a blue silk robe which reads: 'Sergio "The Marvel" Martinez'. Then she vanishes.
We the readers get a closer glimpse at the contents of her room, at all the drawings and paintings Frank supposedly did and gave her—now with a closeup of her signature. Her large loopy handwriting, "G. Fleming".
Was any of it real? Did Frank even exist? It was a sudden shock to realize that it could have all been something going on in her head, or maybe that she was a multiple personality, or that she just created an "imaginary friend" to "help" her in the years following her mother's death.
In the last few pages, we again see Glory's large loopy handwriting, but it's made to look as if it's not Glory speaking at all, but Frank. He's telling her that he's gone back to Argentina and that if she can get away from Golden Hands, she should follow him. That their love can survive anything and they can start over in a new place. Gloria has apparently run off to Argentina ("as well") to join a cruise ship as a piano lounge performer. There is a close up of wine bottles on a window sill, one in particular: "Francisco de Mendoza Argentina" and has a picture of a boy's face on the label.
The last few pictures show, what seems to be the two of them, sitting together (in shadows), drinking out of cups.
It's just so hard to believe that it could all be "real". Glory's initials are "G.F". Chopsticks begins with the chords F and G. But it's also so terribly sad to think that Glory is nothing but a crazy, lonely, and possibly overworked girl who made up a "friend" and then "fell in love" with this figment. Maybe even worse to think that she "ran away" because she wanted to be with him—or that she just needed to escape and reinvent herself. Maybe, if anything, she wasn't running away to be with "Frank" but to somehow be closer to her mother's memory.
I still feel that I'm processing it and may read it again before it has to go back to the library. I still think it's worth a read, even if it's not what you might have been expecting. ...more
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