In his earliest memories he was sitting on the floor in the family room, in front of the giant stereo his parents had bought themselves as a wedding present, his face pressed into the padded fabric of one speaker. The fabric was prickly against his forehead but his nose fit perfectly into a little groove, and he could feel music spilling like molten gold through his entire body. He’d sit back on his heels when the song was over and his father, an accountant and amateur drummer whose (still-unrealized) dream was to open a jazz club and coffee house, would say, “Order up!” and put another record on the turntable. His favorite albums were by Earth, Wind, & Fire (syncopation made his brain feel like it was laughing) and Also sprach Zarathustra, its opening rumbling like an earthquake…For six month in 1984, he had asked his parents to play “Stairway to Heaven” instead of a bedtime story.
Kate Racculia’s Bellweather Rhapsody is a quirky little gem of a novel. I had put this on my TBR when it came out in 2014, but it soon got buried under an avalanche of other titles and I kind of forgot about it. Then Gin Jenny of Reading the End wrote a post about it a few weeks ago, and likened it to my favorite childhood novel, Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game. That was all it took – I instantly perked up and ordered it from another library branch.
I say this is a quirky novel because it’s kind of hard to categorize. It’s part mystery, part meditation on the power of music, part moving story about loneliness and finding connection, between siblings and between strangers. The main action takes place over a long weekend at a high school music festival at the Shining-esque Bellweather Hotel in Upstate New York. It’s told from multiple perspectives, including Harold Hastings, the long-time concierge of the hotel, who’s emotionally and physically stuck in place and time, and Minnie Graves, who is returning to the Bellweather to face a horrible past incident she witnessed there when she was a little girl. We also meet twins Bert (Rabbit) and Alice Hatmaker, who are participants in the music festival and who are about to graduate high school and face college, perhaps apart for the first time in their lives. The storylines of these and other characters converge in really satisfying and intricate ways, and everyone is sort of connected to one another even if they don’t realize it. There’s a creepy mystery that kept me turning the pages involving Alice’s roommate for the weekend turning up missing (and perhaps dead?) and some really sweet stories of characters searching for meaning and fulfillment after years of self-sabotage. Racculia’s lovely writing about the beauty and power of music also touched me. I love stories like this, that are all kinds of different things at once. And it did really feel Westing Game-esque (good job, Jenny!) This was just a really nice surprise – a fun, endearing novel.
So what are some of your favorite hard-to-categorize, quirky books? Tell me your picks in the comments.