cover image The Universe Playing Strings

The Universe Playing Strings

R. M. Kinder. Univ. of New Mexico, $19.95 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-0-8263-5741-0

In this unapologetically sentimental novel about the country and bluegrass scene in Tucson, Ariz., Kinder (An Absolute Gentleman) brings an all-too-likely cast of characters together at the Kettle, where music spins “out of the cracks, up through the floor.” Carl, a 70-year-old fiddler from Oklahoma, is invited to a session by a comely guitarist named Amy and decides to stay in Arizona. Jack, the son of a famous author, has also just arrived in town and shacks up with Cora, an “older woman” whose fingers are “calloused and grooved” from playing guitar. Even as Amy escapes an abusive relationship and Carl becomes entangled in a love triangle, the Kettle and its music unaccountably defy the drama. “This is magic, isn’t it?” Amy remarks to Cora. “This whole troop of people.” Even as Carl heads back to Oklahoma and restlessness and love propel Jack and Amy out of town, music still maintains its magic. Cora, for her part, doesn’t dwell on Jack’s abandonment. Instead, “she felt so wonderful, so damn wonderful. The woods, the towns, everywhere, were filled with musicians. She was one of them.” [em](Aug.) [/em]