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02 February 2006

Sleeping with Schubert (2004)

By Bonnie Marson

From the author's website: "In Sleeping with Schubert, Brooklyn lawyer Liza Durbin takes center stage for the ultimate musical comeback when Franz Schubert takes up residence in her mind and body. It seems the composer of the 'Unfinished' Symphony has loose ends to tie up.

"The reality that Franz Schubert has entered her life radically changes Liza's relationships, career and sense of self. Everyone around her has an opinion or an agenda. As fans, critics and late-night quipsters chomp on every detail of her life, Liza deals with heart-wrenching realities. She sees her own life overrun by a dead composer's passion. With no idea how long it will last or what life would be like if Franz left, Liza searches for understanding. She ultimately finds answers in unexpected places, yet there are still plenty of remaining questions that allow for the thrill of speculation."

I saw this book at Borders last autumn and added it to my reading list as a change of pace; I needed something to liven my collection of somber historical fiction. What I found interesting was how well this cheesy idea was received by critics and fans on sites such as Amazon. It was not, as one might think from the cover, a Sex in the City-style chic book. Well, at least not 100%. In all honesty, however, I might never had read it had not the coordinator of our MOMS Book Club asked me to pick February's selection. I chose this work because I was not about to inflict my other reading list possibilities on unsuspecting moms. What if I had asked them to read The Wolf Pit or The Days of Abandonment? This novel, it seemed, was a little quirky, very fast, humorous, not-at-all difficult to consume, and would not reflect on the preponderance of my personal taste should it suck...

...which it did not. I find it difficult to get too wordy about this book, because of its light-weight, light-hearted nature, but I found it very entertaining. Oddly enough, the characters and events were strangely credible despite the surreal and unbelievable premise on which the plot was based. Liza was funny, as was the occasional "Franz interlude" that followed many chapters. I found Liza's sister, Cassie, excessively prattling and annoying, and the whole sub-story with Cassie's husband Barry was unnecessary and distracting. But Marson handled her remarkably large cast of characters with a deft hand and a solid understanding of their individual voices.

Sleeping with Schubert was not deep reading, granted. However, give me a silly concept that is well-executed and consistent within itself and I'm a happy reader. Once Marson established the ground-rules for Liza's relationship with Schubert, she maintained those rules throughout. No one magically developed additional, new-and-improved powers of the supernatural. Her inhabitaion, as they called it, was the only leap of faith required. And aside from a few painfully unrealistic Bridget Jones-style moments of public humiliation, everything else - from scheming therapists, opportunistic friends, adoring fans, snooty critics, and ever-accepting parents - rang true.

Only Marson's build-the-excitement insinuations about Liza's physical relationship with another musician stopped me cold, as the implication of her philandering ways set me against the protagonist for a number of crucially-timed chapters. But once all was made happily known that she wasn't a habitually cheating slut, I came back to supporting Liza throughout her trials and dilemmas. Her successes with Franz, tied neatly with a bow, were sweetly gratifying.


Ultimately, I found all of this Schubert business very interesting because the only other serious understanding I have of his work in popular culture is from the Sigourney Weaver / Ben Kingsley masterpiece Death and the Maiden...

...a VASTLY different experience altogether.

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