cover image Music Room CL

Music Room CL

Dennis McFarland. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $19.95 (275pp) ISBN 978-0-395-54417-4

McFarland extracts sweetly sad, haunting music from a family's dysfunction in this debut novel. Cellist Martin Lambert owns a San Francisco record company. His wife Madeline is divorcing him for another man, and his brother Perry, a composer, has just committed suicide in New York. Flying there to dig out the reasons for Perry's death, Martin falls in love with his brother's pregnant ex-girlfriend, Jane Owlcaster, a choral conductor. Their affair is a mutual strategy to block the process of grieving. Through flashbacks, dream transcripts and trips to the family's Virginia estate, we meet Martin's alcoholic, widowed mother, who for years served as an ``enabler'' for another compulsive drinker: Martin's father, a failed concert pianist. Memories are exorcised--the day the house nearly burned down, father drinking himself to death, skeletons in the family closet. Martin's first-person quest to reorder his own drifting life at times slips into preciosity, but overall the musical, highly nuanced prose carries the story. First serial to the New Yorker ; film rights to Guber-Peters. (Apr.)