cover image The Second Ending

The Second Ending

Michelle Hoffman. Ballantine, $28 (352p) ISBN 978-0-593-59913-6

Hoffman’s comic debut portrays two pianists who try to recover their artistic aspirations after selling out. Once a famous piano prodigy, Prudence Childs grew disillusioned from her time in the spotlight (as a child, she was paraded onto The Dick Cavett Show) and quit at 18 after striking it rich with a jingle for a soda commercial. Thirty-one years later, Prudence is an empty nester, and she frets to her husband that she’ll be remembered as nothing more than a “circus act.” In a parallel narrative, the 22-year-old host of Alexei Petrov’s Dueling Piano Wars! would rather be playing in conservatories than on a reality competition TV show. When a producer approaches Prudence to join the program, she signs on to be Alexei’s competitor. As Prudence tries to keep some secrets pertaining to the jingle, Alexei resists adding a rock category to the competition, a genre he claims to be “constitutionally incapable” of performing. Though the final piano duel feels a bit rushed, Hoffman makes up for it with snappy dialogue and a pair of offbeat characters worth rooting for. This feel-good story hits all the right notes. Agent: Stefanie Liberman, Janklow & Nesbit Assoc. (June)