cover image Music for Wartime

Music for Wartime

Rebecca Makkai. Viking, $26.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-525-42669-1

Doublings and parallels distinguish the 17 exceptionally well-told stories in Makkai's (The Hundred-Year House) outstanding debut story collection. In "November Story," a producer for a reality-based television program manipulates its participants into a romantic relationship even as she herself is manipulated in her relationship with her partner. In "Painted Ocean, Painted Ship," an English professor who teaches her pupils Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" experiences a poetically appropriate streak of misfortunes in her career and personal life when she herself accidentally kills an albatross. In "The Briefcase," a political refugee who assumes the identity of an imprisoned professor so thoroughly immerses himself in the man's life that he refuses to accept that he is not the professor when the professor's wife exposes his deception. The structural balance and order of these doublings contrast with the emotional lives of Makkai's characters, whose tenderly wrought frailties and inconsistencies make them seem all the more fallibly human%E2%80%94a quality beautifully showcased in "The Worst You Ever Feel," in which a young violinist of Romanian descent realizes that he has been made to travel with his father's aging mentor, who suffered under Nazi oppression, as compensation for his father's flight to freedom in America. Though these stories alternate in time between WWII and the present day, they all are set, as described in the story "Exposition," within "the borders of the human heart"%E2%80%94a terrain that their author maps uncommonly well. (June)