cover image The Year of Silence

The Year of Silence

Madison Smartt Bell. Ticknor & Fields, $15.95 (194pp) ISBN 978-0-89919-490-5

Following Straight Cut and Zero db and Other Stories, this is Bell's fifth book and fourth novel. While the chapters here do not unfold in a linear progression, and most could stand as short stories on their own, they are bound by a narrative connection that goes deeper than the chapters' common location, Manhattan, and the often overlapping characters. In the first chapter we meet a young concert pianist who practices on a painted wood keyboard and rents a closet-size room in the apartment of an old college friend, a teacher named Weber whose girlfriend, Marian, died one year before. In a following chapter a computer jock fights with his girlfriend and meets the gaze of a young woman in a bar; in another, Weber, who is also a karate expert, agonizes when Marian has an abortion. Midpoint through the volume, readers are given Marian's sad, last druggie days. In other chapters, she is seen through the eyes of a panhandling dwarf in her Upper West Side neighborhood, is glanced at by two jaded neighbor cops and, in the end, at a time coinciding with the first chapter, is recollected by a childhood friend. Like the bridge Weber climbs in the first chapter, this novel's structure combines delicacy and great tensile strength. Bell's voice is increasingly diverse, accurate and, in this book of mourning, powerfully moving. (November 2)