Book Title: Bellweather Rhapsody
Author: Kate Racculia
Genre: Literary Fiction (with a heavy dose of Mystery, I’d say…)
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Date Published: May 13th, 2014
Date Read: June 8th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, borrowed from work
Cover Love: It’s different…the hotel, set against an ominous red background, looks like you’re attempting to look at it without your 3-D glasses. The trees and snow are very flat and 2-D, while the piano makes you believe someone is going to go out during a snowstorm to play the piano (they don’t). It’s graphic enough to be eye-catching, and the title stands out for being simply unusual.
Given Synopsis: “A high school music festival goes awry when a young prodigy disappears from a hotel room that was the site of a famous murder/suicide fifteen years earlier, in a whip-smart novel sparkling with the dark and giddy pop culture pleasures of The Shining, Agatha Christie, and Glee.
The search for answers entwines a hilariously 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.
What I’d Add: The synopsis covers most of the main characters (Rabbit and Alice, the bridesmaid all grown up), BUT there’s also the concierge, the Hatmaker’s chaperon, and the eccentric Scottish conductor (whose dialogue is only written in brogue once in the whole book, but he’s referenced as being Scottish constantly?), who all get a backstory and POV chapters along the way. That’s a lot of people to keep hear from and keep track of. And that snowstorm isn’t just forecast, it snows everyone in, adding to the suspense.
It’s Sorta Like: I’m sure they only put Agatha Christie and The Shining on there because they are mentioned rather heavily in the book (a character reads and admires Christie, someone has a formative moment during The Shining). And it’s not really like Glee…I’m sure they just put those there to grab people who like those things (although people who like The Shining and Glee equally? I don’t know if I’ve met such a person).
My Grade: B+
Review: This book is wonderfully written. But stops just short of being earth-shattering, overall. Which is unfortunate, because I loved it until the last 50 or so pages. I was prepared to give it an A, a glowing review, a standing ovation, if you will. But the conclusion of the mystery is just a little clumsy, the loose ends tied up a little unbelievably, and the mash of characters just a little unwieldy.
I have a personal connection to a few of the characters and the setting, as I was involved in performing arts in middle and high school. And I was totally nerdy about it; I went to competitions and did singing warm-ups in hallways (just to drive the point home: on the last day of classes as seniors, my friends and I belted “We Go Together” from Grease through the hallways as we left. Yeah. We did). I had friends very similar to the flashy diva, the quiet band geek (we all knew those, right?), and the burned out chaperon. I knew what it was like to have a performance deeply mean something to you, how the beauty of a well-performed song could make you want to cry, and the oft-bad combination of hormones and performance art. Racculia writes about these moments wonderfully. I reread passages again and again because they were so well done.
But I also feel that you don’t have to have been in band in high school or an aspiring soprano to appreciate the prose. Racculia knows how to draw you in and care about an annoying, needy diva child (Alice), and sympathize/root wholeheartedly for the traumatized bridesmaid returned to the core of her greatest childhood trauma. The characters each get their moment to shine. They’re all a little bit heartbreaking, and it makes for some lovely moments.
But it’s when you have to bring all the characters, their stories and their motives, their fears and insecurities and actions both in the past and in the present moment, that things get a little clumsy. In the climactic scene, it’s a little hard to keep track of five key players doing and saying things all at once. And after that scene, you’re left with a lot of questions, whose answers prove unsatisfying and thin by the novel’s close. And even after this scene, there’s a moment that tries to be even bigger, that leaves you scratching your head, going can that even happen?
The problem with this problem is that you cannot eliminate a character from this equation. Every one of the players is key. The solution to the mystery has plenty of implications for every single character. They’re all so vital, that they deserved a more vital, vibrant, perhaps more gradual end.
I did truly enjoy this book. I’d recommend it to anyone. Just pay particular attention to it’s final moments, it’s moments of chaotic action. They can be a bit hard to sort out.