Book Review: THE LUCY VARIATIONS by Sara Zarr

TheLucyVariationsTHE LUCY VARIATIONS by Sara Zarr is a compelling account of a 16-year-old piano prodigy, Lucy Beck-Moreau, trying to find herself in the midst of crushing family expectations.

What is wonderful about this novel is the believable detail about playing the piano and how it feels to be able to play difficult pieces, the sense of accomplishment, and that wonderful feeling of effortlessness when things are going right:

“Do you recognize that?” he asked.

“Mendelssohn. Concerto number two.”

“It’s you.”

“What?”

“It’s you, Lucy.”

She stared out at the famous view she’d been seeing her whole life–the Transamerica Pyramid, the string of lights across the Bay Bridge. Yes, it was her. She remembered: the hours in the music room with Grace Chang sitting near. She remembered the day she’d nailed this piece, found the music in it, made it a part of her. How it had landed, finally, not in her head, where it had been confounding her for months, but in her heart, where it belonged.

She’d flown with her mother and grandparents to Ohio to record it with the Cleveland orchestra…

This novel comes alive when Lucy plays her music. Which means, unfortunately, that it doesn’t come alive until Lucy actually sits down at her piano and plays, which doesn’t happen until page 146. So, what didn’t work for me in this novel was the beginning. You would think that starting a novel with a dramatic death would be just the thing, but it didn’t work for me. Perhaps it was because this was the inciting incident rather than the hook? I’m not sure. For me, the hook of the novel is why Lucy suddenly abandons a prestigious piano competition in Prague and just walks off the stage. IMHO, that is where the novel actually starts. Which means that Ms. Zarr has actually started her novel too late, a not usual state of affairs!

I think this novel would have been much stronger if we could have cut the death scene and started with Lucy on stage in Prague, sitting in front of that piano, with Ms. Zarr showing us the emotions unspooling before us. I’m not saying that everything needed to be explained about that decision, as part of the interest in reading this novel is to figure out exactly what did happen. But I think a haunting scene of struggle, and that dramatic walking out would have been powerful. And the real hook of the story. Four stars.

 

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