cover image Adrianne Geffel

Adrianne Geffel

David Hajdu. Norton, $25.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-393-63422-8

Music critic Hajdu (Love for Sale) dissembles with tongue firmly in cheek in his inventive debut novel, which takes as its subject the “Queen of Bleak Chic,” a piano phenom who breaks out in the early 1980s after withdrawing from Juilliard. Pianist Adrianne Geffel has a neurological condition that enables her to express her feelings through music. Geffel emerges through an oral history told by her family members who reflect on her troubled childhood (she ran away at nine) and others. Many try to exploit her talent, such as a pompous fellow student at Juilliard who positions himself as her manager, or claim to understand it (“Readers interested in how musical art evolves... will be intrigued to read future pieces by me on Adrianne Geffel’s music,” writes a critic). After the oral accounts catch up to the height of Geffel’s success in the mid-’80s, they turn to her disappearance at the age of 26 and gain greater poignancy. The author establishes Geffel’s impact on American popular culture from the very beginning (one can be accused of “only geffelling,” “over-geffelling,” or “not geffelling enough”), which makes the various accounts of her credible and engaging all the way to the end. Hajdu’s vigorous send-up of the late-20th-century music scene sings. (Sept.)