Sunday, September 17, 2006

Back from France, Busy Fall Ahead!

Hello again! We went to France for three weeks three long weeks ago. Already back- to-school and back-to-schedule numbness is setting in.

I have a busy autumn ahead, with appearances at GritLit festival in Hamilton Sunday November 5th at 16:00, reading with Alan Cumyn and Goran Simic.

The Vancouver Jewish Book Fair, participating in a poetry brunch Sunday November 19th at 11:00 and then giving a reading and talk Monday evening November 20th at 19:00 pm

On to the Winnipeg Jewish Book Fair for an evening reading November 21

And then back in Toronto for Books and Bagels at the Miles Nadal JCC, Sunday December 3 at 11:00

Please come if you can!

The Violin Lover has continued to receive excellent reviews:

Here's one from the Montreal Gazette:

Published: Saturday, July 08, 2006
By Susan Glickman
Goose Lane Editions,
250 pages, $22.95

Our lives are like musical compositions, sometimes featuring discordant, crashing notes, sometimes a stately adagio and at other times, a joyful crescendo.

Poet Susan Glickman uses music as both metaphor and plot device in her first novel, a moving, sparely written story of family, passionate love and strife set in London of the mid-1930s, when anti-Semitism was on the rise and Oswald Mosley's Blackshirts terrorized the Jewish community.

At its heart is an unlikely triangle: Clara Weiss, a lonely, widowed mother of three; her oldest son, Jacob, a piano prodigy who tries to be the man of the family; and Ned Abraham, a violinist and a doctor who has always gone through life hedging his bets.

Indeed, Ned became a general practitioner because he was scared he wouldn't be good enough as a musician, and he still lives with his mother in order to keep himself emotionally available, preferring instead to have affairs with married, clever and exotic women. The progeny of bitter Russian Jewish immigrants, he has a primordial need to blend into Anglo-Saxon society; he's a dogged cosmopolitan who avoids custom and tradition like the plague.

We first meet Ned as he strolls along London's Embankment, wrapped in a luxurious cashmere coat, as he contemplates a concert he has just attended. His reverie is interrupted by the calls of boys who discover a bloated body floating in the river. When the crowd calls for a doctor, Ned at first steps forward, but the sight of the body somehow makes him recoil.

"Why should the sudden death of a complete stranger seem more significant than the slow dissolution of a sick man?" Glickman writes in Ned's detached voice. "Was it a particular failing in him or was it a general rule that anything unknown seemed more important than familiar things did?"

Death is too real. Ned walks on.

Clara and Jacob first meet him at a Christmas concert, after the 11-year-old boy has bowled over the crowd with Schumann's Aufschwung (Soaring); Ned is impressed enough to allow himself to be corralled into performing a duet with him.

To Jacob, Ned represents all his hopes and dreams - a man whom he sees as his surrogate father, an artist who heals people and speaks to him as an equal. He adores the older man's tendency to split hairs in order to be accurate, for he, too, needs to always be accurate about everything, and his imperfect, sloppy and single mother, caught up in her family and making ends meet from one day to the next, can be embarrassing. Why, consider the time she picked him up at school with a blob of raspberry jam on her sleeve!

Clara, who finds Ned attractive, suspects that while he may be very good at healing others, he can't heal himself. As he practices with her son, she hardly lets herself think of a romantic relationship until he comes to her family's seder and steals a kiss after the meal.

Their relationship is fraught with tension; Ned can't handle seeing Clara and Jacob at the same time because that smacks too much of becoming a family, while she is tormented by her need for Ned, even at the expense of her children.

Take for granted that this isn't a book where true adult love, or what passes for it, prevails.

Rather, Glickman has written a wrenching tale that captures the longing of a preteen as easily as the confusion of his mother and the calculated detachment of Ned. The voices may be different, but somehow they work with each other as in a sonata, a composition usually structured in three parts that Jacob describes to his mother early on in the book: "Happy, sad, happy - major key, minor key, major key."
Sometimes, though, the minor keys take precedence. The Violin Lover, with its sad-happy-sad structure, is a good example. And like the final note at the end of a fugue, it resonates long after it's done.

Lisa Fitterman writes a weekly column for The Gazette's "Arts & Life" section.
© The Gazette (Montreal) 2006

Or how about the Toronto music monthly, Whole Note?

Toronto poet and literary critic Susan Glickman sets her first novel, The Violin Lover (Goose Lane Editions, $22.95), in London and, briefly, Vienna, against the ominous backdrop of the rise of the Nazis under Hitler. But the situation she explores ultimately has little to do with politics.

Ned Abraham, a character based on Glickman's great-great-uncle, is a Jewish doctor whose passion is music. He plays violin with pianist Jacob Weiss, a 12-year-old child prodigy who thinks about sonata form when he hears fairy tales. When Ned has an affair with Jacob's widowed mother, Clara, the consequences are disastrous.

Glickman is an elegant, vivid and imaginative writer. She is able to convincingly portray intelligent people talking about things that matter to them, even when their behaviour is not so intelligent. Her depictions of relationships between mothers and sons are especially resonant. Best of all, she gets the music right, both in the technical details and the way it infuses the spiritual lives of her characters.

-- Pamela Margles, "Book Shelf", The Whole Note, July 1-September 7, 2006, 49.

And of course, Books in Canada:

Poet Susan Glickman fashions this engaging tale around the true story of a black sheep great-great-uncle who lost his medical license in 1930s London for performing an abortion on his mistress. Glickman pulls no punches when she introduces the fictional Dr Ned Abraham, her eponymous violin lover. Observing the body of an old Jewish man washing up on he River Thames, he passes by, allowing others to attend to it. His head in his music, he eschews responsibility.

Then he meets a gifted child pianist, Jacob Weiss, who plays Schumann as if he's on horseback: "the wind whistled by and he was riding the piano in the bliss of it, entirely alone." Ned reluctantly assumes the role of mentor to the fatherless Jacob, only to discover he rather enjoys it. Equally enjoyable is his passionate affair with the boy's widowed mother, Clara. When her bourgeois sister discovers he has terminated Clara's pregnancy, she insists her sister report him and exact her reluctant revenge.

Not only does Glickman meet the challenge of making this not entirely likable man come to complex life, her language expertly mirrors the rhythms of life and music. This is Clara, the elemental mother bathing her small children: "they were seals they were otters, hers and not hers, not entirely human yet." In contrast, Ned's love is for "the current that sings" between himself and his instrument, the violin that "sounds like a voice... its belly made of spruce, soft and yielding, its back of hard maple." Their mutual sensuality makes for a heady affair, but afterward, when Clara is cast aside, it is her maturing son who develops a complexity similar to the doctor's. Glickman's backdrop shows us the texture of Jewish life in London: the music, the politics, the growing Blackshirt menace, the realities of children and home. These endure after the love affair has faded to silence.

-- Nancy Wigston, "First Novels," Books in Canada, Summer 2006, 37.

Or the online magazine, January:

"Disparate Chords"

Reviewed by Cherie Thiessen

"Music is the art of time, pure temporality abstracted from word or concept. Time as experienced by God and only guessed at by man—rhythm and cadence, variable and pliant as air. Music is what you hear when you really listen ... And music is the art that stops time."

This, according to Ned Abraham, a practicing doctor who also is a violin virtuoso, is because when you play music you are playing toward the ideal performance which, if attainable, would only be followed by silence. Hence music is the art that seeks its own extinction.

Wow. Luckily, this comes halfway through The Violin Lover, a novel by Toronto poet and literary critic, Susan Glickman. Makes you stop and think. It wouldn't be my definition, but then I don't know music and musicians the way Glickman obviously does. And if she doesn't, she's done one staggering amount of research to give her total credibility.

Her research ranges well beyond the world of music. She's set her story in Jewish London in the 1930s, with Hitler's menace looming. A near destitute widow with three children, Clara has been encouraging her gifted 11-year old son, Jacob, to play the piano. They meet the doctor at Jacob's recital and eventually the former finds himself reluctantly agreeing to work on a duet with the serious young musician. While Jacob's sorrow at the loss of his father makes him only too eager for a relationship with an adult, Ned is slower to warm to the boy. Eventually, however, a friendship is formed through a shared love of music and the doctor's admiration for his young protégé's dedication.

More than a friendship is forged, unfortunately, with the boy's mother. The red-haired, passionate Clara quickly falls for Ned and is soon dreaming of the security and stability of a marriage with him. How perfect a father he would be for the adoring Jacob. The doctor, however, has never envisioned a life with four dependents. A womanizer, a traveler and a busy doctor who has his practice in the family home he shares with his mother, his feelings for Clara are largely sexual. They share little in common other than the boy and a physical attraction. Eventually the inevitable occurs; she falls pregnant and as attacks on Jews build and events spin out of control, each finds less than the life they dreamt of.

I found myself wishing for a feistier, more interesting Clara. A saint during the illness and death of her husband, and almost a martyr in her dedication and attention to her fatherless children, her passion turns her into a cliché: the desperate, plaintive, demanding mistress, the total slave of love. She's indecisive, weak and wallowing in a self-pity she never showed during her husband's long illness. Ned, however, is brilliantly portrayed. Clever and hard working, he's a man who will always put the brain above the heart, whose emotions will never rule his actions. Glickman cleverly foreshadows the man and his life in the first chapter, when walking by London's Embankment, he spies a drowned Jew and the gathering crowd, and chooses to turn away when someone calls for a doctor, telling himself there is no point. It was the unpleasantness he wished to avoid; the interruption of his routine for no beneficial result. He's a man who wishes he could paint because in art, at least, there is no corruption. "Things stay the same forever." We know well before Clara does that she's no match for him, an intellectual skating on the emotional surface of life who would never venture out when the ice is too thin.

Unfolding over a period of three years, while Hitler drives the world ever closer to war, The Violin Lover is impacted by the atmosphere, never overpowering but definitely underlining the actions of the characters. It resonates in the background, the tension of this gathering storm adding much to the tale. Interestingly, it's a story that ultimately reflects Ned's feelings about that perfect musical performance. When you read a good book, don't you also want to close that cover and be silent? To think about and savor it for a time, not even tempted to read another until the possibility of literary perfection again rears its head? Clever Glickman.

| September 2006

Cherie Thiessen has been a scriptwriter, playwright, creative writing instructor and -- for the past 10 years -- a travel writer and book reviewer. She was the review columnist for Focus on Women Magazine for eight years and has also written numerous reviews for magazines including Monday Magazine, Pacific Yachting, Cottage Magazine, The Driftwood News, Linnear Reflections and Douglas College's Event magazine.