by Kate Racculia
“A high school music festival goes awry when a young prodigy disappears from the most infamous room in the Bellweather Hotel, in a whip-smart novel sparkling with dark and giddy humor.
Fifteen years ago, a murder-suicide in room 712 rocked the grand old Bellweather Hotel and the young bridesmaid who witnessed it, Minnie Graves. Now hundreds of high school musicians, including quiet bassoonist Rabbit Hatmaker and his brassy diva twin, Alice, have gathered in its cavernous, crumbling halls for the annual Statewide festival; Minnie has returned to face her demons; and a colossal snowstorm is threatening to trap them all in the hotel. Then Alice’s roommate goes missing–from room 712. The search for her entwines an eccentric cast of characters: conductors and caretakers, failures and stars, teenagers on the verge and adults trapped in memories. For everyone has come to the Bellweather with a secret, and everyone is haunted.
Bellweather Rhapsody is a genre-bending page-turner, full of knowing nods to pop culture classics from The Shining to Agatha Christie to Glee. But its pleasures are beautifully deepened by Kate Racculia’s skill with her characters, her melancholy, affecting writing about music, and her fearlessness about the loss and darkness that underline the truest humor. This is a wholly winning new novel from a writer to watch.” (via Indiebound, minor edits for readability)
Good Things: One of the things I liked best about Bellweather Rhapsody was how it covers a lot of literary ground without ever feeling spread too thin. It’s a murder mystery, it’s a study of grief and pain, it’s a coming-of-age story. It travels through the ensemble cast and makes them all important and worth caring about; the Hatmaker twins and Minnie were my favorites, no doubt, but I never resented spending time with Fisher or Natalie or Hastings, which usually happens when I’m reading a novel with so many characters involved. There’s a lot of drama and theatrically big emotions, many tense sequences, and plenty of personal secrets to go around, and I was in just the right mood to fall into it all happily and ride the drama waves with everyone in the story.
Besides, for all the big feelings and big moments, there are little nuggets of truth about people that can pop up on you when you aren’t expecting them: Minnie’s coping mechanisms, and Alice’s true self under all her flashiness, and Rabbit’s surprising moments of confidence. Those pieces are going to stick with me past everything else, I think, and bring me back to read it and feel understood in the future.
Also, the bit about the middle section of “Jupiter” from The Planets is absolutely real and true and maybe the best thing I’ve ever read about it:
He knows that “Jupiter” is divided into three sections–the first and third are quick and cheerful, allegro giocoso, the essence of jollity (which Fisher finds hard to believe is actually a word). The middle is not silly. The middle is not syncopated. After some leftover tootling in the winds, the middle begins with strings moving together as one sonorous beast, slowly, majestically. The theme is restated, picking up winds and brass and percussion. It soars higher and higher until all the orchestra is reaching the same climactic phrase, released from gravity for only a moment, and gently falling back to earth.
It is a hymn, a prayer.
It’s the sound of several dozen souls singing the same song, and Fisher isn’t leading them. Fisher is one of them, his skinny arms swooping of their own accord. The middle doesn’t end so much as pause thoughtfully; more ridiculous merry bullshit is coming, but this feeling, this true joy, is always there. [loc 3360-3368]
Bad Things: I can’t call anything in this book bad–there were a few things that tugged at the edge of my attention, but nothing that ever dragged it away entirely. The theatricality of the characters’ inner lives works best with the younger players, I think; it makes sense that Alice and Rabbit would be full of big feelings, but equally big feelings coming from Natalie and Fisher, who are supposed to be the adults in this scenario, do feel a little inappropriate. Of course, that’s not to say that this wasn’t intentional. After all, they both experienced some messy things in their childhoods that affected their core beliefs about themselves, and emotional immaturity is hardly restricted to the young. Still, I felt a little bad when Viola Fabian, the clearest villain of the story, told Natalie to get over herself and I caught myself thinking, yeah, seriously.
Speaking of Viola: there are obviously sociopaths in real life, but Viola felt a little flat to me, especially among the wonderfully-realized other characters. A little mustache-twirly, if you will. At times her actions felt more like a plot device to bring the other characters together, rather than the believable decisions of a real (if screwed-up) character in her own right.
Overall: I know some folks use the word “romp” to backhandedly compliment media, but I am not one of those people. This book is rompy and a little silly and a little serious, and I loved it. I’m already looking forward to reading it again in a year or two.
Full Disclosure: The author is an internet friend of mine. Nevertheless, I paid for my copy of the book with my own money (albeit on sale), and I told her in advance that I’d be objective in my review.