cover image Every Good Boy Does Fine: A Love Story, in Music Lessons

Every Good Boy Does Fine: A Love Story, in Music Lessons

Jeremy Denk. Random House, $28 (384p) ISBN 978-0-8129-9598-5

A boy tumbles into manhood while learning classical piano in this raucous coming-of-age memoir from concert pianist and New Yorker writer Denk. He surveys his youth through the lens of his piano studies—from his first plinkings in 1976 at age six with a neighborhood teacher in New Jersey to his rigorous studies at Juilliard’s PhD program—while navigating complicated family relationships and his awakening homosexuality. It’s a story of mind-numbing practice; obsessive attention to fingering, tempos, and tone; and wan hopes of glory, all made engrossing by Denk’s shrewd metaphors (“Imagine that you are scrubbing the grout in your bathroom and are told that removing every last particle of mildew will somehow enable you to deliver the Gettysburg Address”). At its heart are evocative sketches of Denk’s teachers and their lessons—which can feel like philosophy seminars (“You need to learn the difference between character and caricature,” one instructor says) or barroom brawls (“ ‘Why are you fucking waiting?’ he yelled in my face, coating me with a fine film of scotch-scented saliva”)—but always unveil some deep musical truth. Denk’s sparkling prose, frankness, and humor make for an indelible portrait of the musician as a bewildered kid. (Feb.)