(Image from Barnes & Noble)
Does the sight of a piano on the cover of a book make anyone else shudder? One glance pulls me back to childhood lessons, endless hours of practice, and the eternal agony of trying to coax my fingers into cooperating long enough to plunk out a recognizable tune. Even now, so many piano-free years later, I look at the instrument with a certain amount of loathing. And don't even talk to me about musical theory, technique or history. Nothing in this world - except maybe geology - could be quite as dull as that. So, you may be asking, why did I even bother with A. Manette Ansay's Good Things I Wish You? In a word: people. I'm constantly fascinated by human beings. Even if they do live, eat and breathe solely to commune with that most diabolical instrument of torture - the piano.
The book concerns 42-year-old Jeanette Hochmann, a college professor whose recent divorce has thrown her life into a confusing tailspin. Once she was passionate about so many things; now the whole world seems to have faded to beige. Even her latest project - a book about the decades-long relationship between German pianist Clara Schumann and her husband's baby-faced protégé, Johannes Brahms - fails to excite her the way it once did.
When a blind date throws her into the arms of an intriguing German man, Jeanette feels her spirits lift. A little. Despite Hart's enthusiastic offer to help with her project, she can't help feeling that he's holding back a little, especially when it comes to their romantic relationship. She's almost positive that he's hiding something. Still, Jeanette can feel herself relaxing, feeling more free than she has in years. Her creativity seems to be flowing again, her book project finally picking up some momentum.
Between her study of Clara Schumann and the time she spends with Hart, Jeanette finally begins to mend the shattered pieces of her life back together. Both experiences help her answer the age old question: Can men and women ever be just friends?
As much as I liked the idea behind Good Things I Wish You, I found the book to be quite disappointing. Not because of the writing, which is lush and lyrical, but because of the clumsy transitions between past and present. I felt as if I was constantly switching between a novel and a textbook. Ironically, I found the latter much more interesting. While I couldn't have cared less if Jeanette lived or died, I found Clara completely fascinating. A book solely about her - her thoughts, her feelings, her struggles - would have been so much more interesting to me. As is, Good Things I Wish For You is not unappealing, it just doesn't work well enough for me. I finished the novel in a matter of hours, but it was mostly because I wanted to get it behind me. Not unlike my long-ago piano lessons.
(Readalikes: I can't really think of any. Can you?)
If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for language and sexual content