Over the past few days I have had the utter and complete pleasure of reading this massive, meaty and magnificent book for the second time. The first was about twenty years ago when I found out about it during a book interval in a phone call between Mum and I – the “What are you reading?” “Have you read this?” “Ooh yeah love his work!” kind of exchange we often had. We had both loved ‘The Shipping News’, but strangely I have not read ‘Postcards’ or ‘Heart Songs’ and I must do so.
This is the story of a green accordion. No, it commits no crimes – the crimes are those of humans who do terrible things to other humans or themselves whether deliberately or through abuse and neglect. And societies that turn a blind eye at best to them as well as to racial and social injustice. Because although the accordion is the thread that carries the tale, it is incidental -the stories told are those of the people who come into contact with it, and their unique and diverse cultures and backgrounds.
Over a hundred year period, this green button accordion passes through many hands, and plays the music of many ethnicities, and the details and research that must have gone into this astound me. There is much detail. However, the characters are so well drawn that they are what shine through – Javier, the Basque shepherd living on a hill in New Mexico, Hieronim Przybysz, a second generation Polish immigrant, Dolor Gagnon, a Frenchman who grew up in an orphanage and knows no French stuck in my mind. But so many more. (On a side note, I find it interesting that I’ve chosen three male characters when the female characters as equally strong.)
Oh America. I’ve only visited you once but I loved you, especially those wide open sky filled spaces in the South West. But would I have loved you as much in the Depression Era, or if I were black, Nordic or Hispanic? Or a Vietnam veteran? E. Annie Proulx holds nothing back, tears the curtains apart on some of the most seamy and unpleasant aspects of life in America for immigrants, especially those in poverty. Or the descendants of slavery. It really is an eye opening social commentary on the Great American Dream.
Despite the grimness of the reality, this is absorbing and thoroughly great writing in my opinion. I loved the brief stories in parentheses telling you what happened to various characters later in their lives – I was quite disconcerted when I realised this really is about the accordions journey through human lives. Once it’s passed to its new owner, the previous one literally vanishes, and only a very few make any form of reappearance later in the novel, let alone are referred to. I found that quite remarkable but became used to it easily.
You may have gathered, it’s not a ‘light’ read. Even the sex scenes are frequently as brutish and unsavoury as many of the books inhabitants. It’s exactly as I described it though; massive, meaty and magnificent, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. And although this is not Mum’s copy but a volume I bought from a local charity store, I’m still going to be gifting it forward…which I have actually been doing on my market stall on Sundays, and the reason why many of the books I’ve reviewed recently, I have had to add ‘already gifted’ to! But one does enjoy a good bookish chat with a like minded soul!
Hope you are all going to let me know your thoughts if you have a) read this or b) read it! Becky X