It seems that the legendary composer Franz Schubert is alive--well, sort of--in the twenty-first century: His soul has taken up residence in the body of Brooklyn lawyer Liza Durbin. Even more astonishing, so has his prodigious gift. A mediocre pianist at best as a child, Liza can suddenly pound out concertos and compose masterly music out of the blue. But how can a brilliant male Austrian composer from the nineteenth century coexist in the everyday life of a modern American woman? And how can Liza explain what's happened to her without everyone thinking she's gone off the deep end?
Fortunately, the evidence is tangible, and Liza is soon brought into the esteemed halls of Juilliard under the tutelage of the revered--and feared--Greta Pretsky, a humorless woman whose only interest in Liza is her channeling of Schubert. Greta's greedy for her next big star, and the entire New York City press is whispering of Liza's brilliance as the public awaits her debut at Carnegie Hall. Even Liza's boyfriend, Patrick, seems more in love with her than ever.
Yet as Liza yields to Franz's great passion, her own life and identity threaten to elude her. Why was she chosen as the vessel for this musical genius--and when, if ever, will he leave? Their entwined souls follow a path of ecstasy, peril, and surprise as they search for the final, liberating truth.
A strikingly original novel, Sleeping with Schubert plays on years of speculation regarding Franz Schubert's "Unfinished Symphony." Bonnie Marson's extraordinary imagination supposes that Schubert cannot truly die until the mystery is solved--even if it means being resurrected in the body of a deceptively ordinary woman. Filled with drama and humor, this irresistible novel explores love, genius, and identity in ways that will engage and amaze readers.
Off-key simulations of classical music, celebrity journalism and human relationships flatten first-time author Marson's high-concept chick-lit novel about a cranky 21st-century Brooklyn lawyer possessed by the titular 19th-century Viennese composer and pianist. Protagonist Liza Durbin is succinctly introduced as a 30-something with worldly and otherworldly concerns. But Marson's reckless use of analogy ("The music followed a wild course, carved through stony walls, bathed in icy waters") and adjectives ("Her deep brown eyes doubled in size, and her pumpkin-bright hair bristled") gets in the way of her storytelling. Liza is first visited by Schubert when she sits down at a department store piano; her family soon persuades her to take her unusual skills public ("I say make a CD today so if it goes away tomorrow, it's not a total loss"). Her meteoric rise to stardom is chronicled in mock newspaper articles and television transcripts, broad parodies that strain for effect. Narrative suspense and emotion emerge as Liza's Carnegie Hall debut approaches and her on-again off-again boyfriend Patrick bridles at sharing Liza with Franz, but a heroine whose life change brings inadvertent weight loss and battles with a shallow, gorgeous kid sister may remind readers of warmer characters by Jennifer Weiner and Jane Green. Marson is at her best in capturing the power of music to transform and (literally) inhabit performers and composers, but this is a brittle, overworked debut.
Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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November 28, 2005
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Excerpt from Sleeping with Schubert by Bonnie Marson
The day I became a genius I locked the keys in the car with the motor running. This minor delay served its cosmic purpose, I suppose, delivering me right on time for my transformation at the spiritual launch site-women's shoes at Nordstrom.
Christmas in southern California satisfies about as well as chocolate mousse with Cool Whip. Holiday flourishes covered every Nordstrom surface that day, but the sun shone warmly, Santa's suit had sweat stains, and the perfect snow never melted.
Dad and I had a tradition of shopping for Mom together. Knowing her so well, we felt we could combine our instincts to pick a gift she might not loathe. Fat chance.
I found a rose-colored satin luxury that anyone would love. Dad looked at it skeptically, scratching his bushy gray hair.
"Hundred and eighty." I said it casually, like I always spend that much on bathrobes.
"Dollars? A hundred and eighty dollars? I could buy a house for that!" His face twisted with horror, which our poor saleslady took seriously. She flustered at us apologetically.
"Really, miss, it looks fine to me," he said. "Wrap it, please. Chanukah paper, if you have it."
The saleslady stared blankly back at him.
Ever since moving from New York to San Diego, my father's jokes zoomed over the heads of store clerks, waiters, and ticket takers. He ached for the verbal volleyball you could pick up on any street corner in the Bronx. I had moved away only as far as Brooklyn, and worked as a lawyer in Manhattan. In spare moments, I fantasized about more creative pursuits and a possible move to palm-tree country. But if ever I were tempted to live in California, that saleslady's blank stare would be a strong deterrent.
We headed toward the dresses, looking for I don't know what. Something for my sister, something for Aunt Frieda. One by one, commission-driven "sales associates" assaulted us with helpfulness. After a dozen May I help yous, I grabbed the first dress in reach and asked a saleslady for a dressing room. This made me safe. Nordstrom associates are connected by
hidden antennae and territorial threats that keep the shopper safe from other sales associates once an alliance is made. My boyfriend should be so monogamous.
Piano music had been drifting around in my head since we arrived. The volume rose and fell as we wandered around the store. When we drew close to the source, the melodies hardened and cracked like dried clay.
A highly polished baby grand sat on the highly polished marble floor and was played by a highly polished pianist. His honey-colored hair was swept away from his scarily perfect face. Turquoise-blue contacts looked down a surgically carved nose toward a beauty-queen smile with teeth as white as white.
He played the Christmas standards with showy finesse, dramatizing Rudolph and trivializing the Wise Men. His head swayed gracefully with the music, mimicking sincerity. Occasionally, he'd look up to bless us with a smirk and an eyebrow shrug, assuring us he was too good for this banal dreck the store made him play. If only he could show us his real stuff.
Normally, I'd accept it all as store atmosphere, but his music was getting on my nerves. Every time I got near him, my head throbbed and sweat slid down my neck. His know-it-all look enraged me and I fought not to scream when he Muzaked "Ave Maria."
I tried to walk away but his playing attracted me like a spectator to an Amtrak wreck. Occasional missed notes hit my body like flying glass. I outplayed him in my head, summoning the music's original beauty. When he left for his break, I calmly took his place on the piano bench and began to play.
Through all my grade-school piano lessons I'd only gotten good enough to recognize the skill in others. Suddenly I became an other.
I was not like a lifeless puppet, nor a remote-control robot. All the movement came from inside. Muscles flexed, fingers moved, and my mind was filled with a comprehension I had no right to possess. I vibrated like a tuning fork as the music flowed outward. Visions slid in and out of focus. My brain engaged in a psychic tug-of-war with an unseen opponent.
It was a lovely piece I played, one I'm sure I never heard before but which felt like an old friend. The melody started slowly and I marveled at the grace in my hands. My manicured fingertips roamed the keyboard at will, gathering up its secrets and pouring them out in exquisite form. The tempo picked up and my heart raced to meet it. I watched my fingers hurling, twisting, and dancing wildly, amazed they didn't pretzel up on me. Then came a light and lilting part pulling on strands of melody remembered from the beginning. The ending left me tear-drenched.