A fictitious author writing about musicians Clara and Robert Schumann finds herself in a relationship with her translator. But is it love?
Classical music can be full of dramatic moments that build in crescendos with tension-filled, knuckle-biting momentum. There's an ebb and flow to the intensity of a song, just as human relationships have louder and quieter periods. In A. Manette Ansay's new novel, "Good Things I Wish You," a modern dating story is contrasted with an attraction between 19th-century pianist Clara Schumann and composer Johannes Brahms.
When we listen to music, read a book or examine a painting, we are often looking for something we can admire. That seems to be what both story lines are dedicated to. In the 1800s, Clara is the woman who sacrifices her piano-playing to mother her children and be the attentive wife to composer Robert Schumann. Along comes the young Brahms, who is captivated by her talent and dedication, and who wants the one thing he can't have.
The contemporary story centers on a writer named Jeanette, recently divorced and enrolled in a dating service. Jeanette is writing a novel about the musicians Clara and Johannes, and the dating service sets her up with a German man named Hart, who helps her translate some of her research.
Mixed in with both stories are quotes from Clara, Robert and Johannes, as well as photo collages. The photos convey a more intimate account of history, as if the reader were flipping through a personal scrapbook belonging to Clara's or Robert's descendants.
Ansay makes it clear that her characters all want one thing: for art to be a high priority. "For art is about desire, is it not, and never its consummation?" Jeanette asks out loud, when recalling how her middle-aged piano instructor desired her as a teenager.
While in one decade Brahms wanted nothing more than the attention of a married woman, in current times Hart involves Jeanette in a relationship built on the ability to "understand each other," but without actual heart in it.
When he asks Jeanette, "What can romance mean at our age?," it becomes clear that the climax of a relationship is always going to be the what-if moments. It's the longing and hoping for substance that generates creativity and art.
The novel does not unfold slowly. Instead, it is told abruptly, in short, energetic bursts that get directly to the point, but take away from the pleasures of a slower-paced examination of love.
Michele Filgate is a freelance writer and independent bookseller in New Hampshire.