Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Annie Proulx: Accordion Crimes

Oh, this book is the best yet. Where Postcards was a little disorganized, what with the postcard bits being both hard to read and a little random, and The Shipping News a little bit too happy, this one is just about perfect. And imagine, when I started reading it, I didn't really want to, I struggled a bit. I wanted to read something less challenging I think, something that wouldn't dig into my soul. But very soon this had me hooked, and I couldn't put it down.

In the late 19th century a poor Sicilian makes an accordion (from bits he's stolen from his previous job), and when he emigrates to the USA with his son the accordion goes with him. The instrument is going to make his fortune, that's the plan, but his life comes to a violent and sad end, and the accordion passes on. And so we get a story of America, of immigrants who cling to their culture and language and music, of minorities whose families have been on the continent a long time now but who are still not yankees, and of the African-American tragedy, the ones who were first (well, second) but who never counted. It's just beautiful. The woman can write about polka music and make it sound like the most heart-wrenching dramatic thing ever.

I wrote on the scrap of paper I was using as a bookmark that there was one passage I wanted to quote, because it sums up so well why Annie Proulx is such a wonderful writer:

That poor man a machine for working, the bruised hands crooked for seizing and pulling, for lifting boxes and baskets, for grasping. The arms hung uncomfortably when work stopped. He was made for work, eyes squinted shut, the face empty of the luxury of reflection, mouth a hole, stubbled cheeks, a filthy baseball cap, wearing a cast-off shirt until it rotted away. If there was beauty in his life, no-one knew it.

That really moved me. I think she's Nobel Prize material.

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