Where to begin with assessing a novel like 'Winter Music'? Stylistically it checks all the boxes of what would otherwise interest me. There's everythiWhere to begin with assessing a novel like 'Winter Music'? Stylistically it checks all the boxes of what would otherwise interest me. There's everything from classical music, bitchy one liners and pill popping. Yet, this is probably one of the more absurd novels I've had the chance of reading. And I do say that with love for the reason that this book tries cover so much territory in so small a book. If it had only been another two or three hundred pages then Rile could've feasibly explored and satiated most of the issues concerned here. However, I don't like to fault authors on this too much especially concerning vintage novels like this one because we don't really know how much of the novel got edited out by an editor trying to make the novel both engaging to read while also being marketable. This book starts out promising yet halfway through and after a rather large host of characters and semi point of view narratives introduced nothing exactly substantial has happened. This also comes with the annoying feature that all of the characters appear to be linked to each other by the six degrees of separation cliche, which would be all well and fine except that nothing grand materializes from these designs. The story focuses on a rather disjointed and unlikely retinue of people who seemingly revolve around who would otherwise be considered the main character Lawrence Chatterjee, a former master flautist who's career was cut short by an untimely accident which left him physically maimed. He bides his time in the luxuries his former glory days have afforded him, taking on the occasional promising student and writing biographies of more illustrious artists of his profession. On one side of Lawrence's world we're introduced to eleven year old prodigy Gabriel, Gabriel's unrealistically ambitious mother Elizabeth and her boyfriend Toby. On the other side of this we're invited into a world of mostly older gay men in the classical world who are Lawrence's friends and some time former lovers. The most keen example of them is James Rosen, Lawrence's on and off again lover for the last 20 years and who succeeded to the auspices of the classical world that Lawrence left vacant due to the accident. The story then after introducing a few more principal character then spills off into nearly every direction you can think of which is why I mentioned earlier that there's too much territory covered in too little a space. There are a plethora of issues that are touched upon throughout the novel, such as divorce, suicide , death, abandonment, feminist strife, adolescent growth, the immigrant experience and race relations. Yet, whats also interesting is that while we have a story that focuses on the lives of a group of a gay men we don't actually touch upon the strife that we've come to understand was commonplace among homosexual men growing up in pre1980's America. Furthermore, whats also ironic, while majority of the characters in this book are either homosexual or bisexual men this novel displays a rather "heterocentric" narrative and tone. There's no actual gay sex scenes but there are a few brushes of intimacy of a heterosexual variety. Though there are slight Thomas Mann-like elements present, the gay men all seem to exhibit what I would describe as "dynastic homosexuality"; essentially intergenerational relationships succeeding each other and at times overlapping. There appears to be some pederastic inclinations of Lawrence towards Gabriel, though we're unclear whether there is a sexual component to this or not. The other prevalent theme here is that of death and loss. There's several instances of death in this book which none of the characters seem to be able to make peace with or come to resolve for themselves. This novel's absurdity is largely due to its broad undertaking but also the characters don't resolve really any of their loss issues (or what have you). And because the story trails off into twenty different directions as the reader you're left with this sense of abandonment and vacillation yourself.
The saving grace of this novel is that it's saturated with late 1970s nostalgia; we see that most of the characters have an on hand prescription to Valium (very 70s) and there's even mention of the long lost hypnotic pastime Quaalude (ultra 70s). It also depicts political upheaval prevalent in 1970s Central and South America where at the time a "banana republic" was not a shop at the mall, it was a dangerous unstable country you avoided. The novel is also evocative of a brief time period where the gay rights movements had made considerable progress especially with regard to mainstream acceptance. It was written and published on the eve of the AIDS pandemic so you don't really see much of the backlash and homophobia that was pervasive throughout the rest of the 1980s and early 1990s in response to the mass outbreak. In itself, it's almost like reading a time capsule. Lastly, while this novel is replete with underdeveloped subplots and curiosities that are never fully explored, it makes it ripe for the possibility of seeing this revamped as possibly one of those series on HBO that are quite popular these days. A few of the more interesting curiosities that might be interesting to expand upon for example is that we note that Gabriel's first music teacher was a seemingly forlorn young woman who apparently killed herself with sedatives. At her funeral Gabriel notes that among the mourners is a woman dressed entirely in red. Another interesting story line includes Lawrence's childhood maid Sujita who is later sent to England to marry someone more befitting of her caste system.
Overall, 'Winter Music' while it is a pleasant and intriguing novel it is nonetheless a prematurely conceived manifesto of an epistemological variety. Karen Rile apparently was 21 or 22 when she wrote and published it. Obviously, a huge achievement but probably too early an age for the concepts in the novel for which she dealt with. The writing on the subject matter is expressively telling of the author's age at the time. We may become acutely aware of and fluent in the nuances of the issues and paradigms that Rile has written about by our early twenties but very few of us have any idea of actually how to resolve them. 'Winter Music' is an example of this sort of scatter brain worldliness that we inhabit in our early twenties.
'Winter Music' was Rile's debut novel, and I have met a handful of published authors in my travels and most of them blanche in disgust at the mere mention of their debut, so I would be interested in reading another Karen Rile novel , especially if it explores similar themes depicted in 'Winter'. My research on her has disappointingly shown that 'WM' appears to be her only published novel to date. It would be worth seeing how 30 years worth of experience may have matured and sharpened her prose. ...more
Solipsism and narcissism never looked so good. WGPs is the faux-memoir/true confessions of LA shopaholic/drug addict/schizophrenic diva Babe Walker. FSolipsism and narcissism never looked so good. WGPs is the faux-memoir/true confessions of LA shopaholic/drug addict/schizophrenic diva Babe Walker. Filled with witty anecdotes and catch phrases the book presents a series of short story styled chapters each having little to no relation to any of the others to the point where one would be reluctant to call this a novel. Part epistolary work the book chronicles the short and privileged life of Babe the daughter of a successful Hollywood lawyer and her spiral into retail melt down and her slight foray into the real world of the everyday man. Not since the movie 'Clueless!" have we seen such heartfelt shallowness. I write that this is a faux-memoirs as I was first made aware of this book from the "author's" blog. Upon further investigation it I soon understood that Babe Walker is actually the brain-child of a group of writers from the publishing house Hyperion. Which though slightly disappointing that she is in fact fiction is slightly a relief as theres no way anyone could (in a healthy life) live like this. Though she does appear to be a composite of various real life archetypes (such as Tori Spelling and Kim Kardashahian) and fictional characters (such as Clueless's Cher).
With little hint of an actual plot this is a comedic read in the fullest sense. It's a book you don't even need to begin from the start. If you're having a bad day and need a quick pick me up (and you lost your coke dealer's number) read a chapter or two from White Girl Problems. Truly a gem, I can't wait for either the tv series or the movie version.