cover image My Mother's Music: 9a Memoir

My Mother's Music: 9a Memoir

Paul West. Viking Books, $23.95 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-670-86757-8

In this curiously disconcerting reminiscence, West, who won the 1993 Lannan Prize for fiction (Love's Mansion), struggles to understand his mother and her influence on him, but his effort founders in dense thickets of abstracted prose that conceals more than it reveals. ""I sense[d] in her,"" he tells us, ""an obtuse longevity sending an antenna forward into the unknown region where muscle dried, mucus thickened, and the brain scrabbled frantically to match cause and effect."" He relates plainly enough the facts of her life: her background as a butcher's daughter, her love of music, her blocked career as a pianist, her devotion to him, her influence on his education. There is much talk of the composers she loved and of the awareness she imbued in him of a music in words. But neither she nor West is released from the welter of language into a satisfying portrait. Recognizing the trouble himself, he writes, at one point, ""I could go on packing words into the gap, but she has to be recovered in action... Is she there?'' It's hard to say yes. (May)