In case you’re interested –
Body & Soul by Frank Conroy.
From the back cover:
“In the dim light of a basement apartment, six-year-old Claude Rawlings sits at an old white piano, picking out the sounds he has heard on the radio and shutting out the reality of his lonely world.”
Imagine a little boy left alone while his mother goes off to drive a taxi in New York in the 1940s. Can you put yourself in his place? Claude spends a lot of time watching people walk back and forth on the sidewalk outside the apartment window. All he can see is their legs and shoes, but at least it’s something to do.
“An old woman with thin calves, a kid in sneakers, men in wingtips, women in high heels…. If anyone paused he could see detail – straps, eyelets, a worn heel, or cracked leather with the sock showing through – but it was the movement that he liked, the passing parade of color and motion.”
Claude eventually discovers the piano that is stored in the back room where he sleeps. As the back cover blurb mentions, he begins to copy the music he hears on the radio, filling the long hours his mother is gone.
As novels go, this one starts slow but builds into a very enjoyable read. Claude is a likeable, genuine character, as is Mr. Weisfeld, a music store proprietor who takes Claude under his wing. One of my favorite characters though is Al, a furnace man at a ritzy New York apartment building where Claude goes to collect bottles for the refund. Al’s character develops slowly, almost deceptively. When he appeared to be leading Claude astray I wasn’t sure I was going to like him. But Conroy redeems him in my eyes later on and one of my favorite quotes from the book is his.
Al and Claude’s mother, Emma have become friends and the three of them are having dinner when Claude learns that Al’s been unjustly fired. Claude is accustomed to is mother’s passionate outbursts and overreactions so he is surprised at Al’s calm demeanor.
“I mean, you’re not even angry. That’s terrible what they did. It’s outrageous.”
“I’m angry. I just don’t give in to it.” He sipped his tea and then put it down. “Stuff happens all the time. What’d you call it? Outrageous. Outrageous stuff make you so mad you can just burn yourself up with it. You got to decide if the mad runs you, or you run the mad.”
How wise is that?
I’m not doing the book justice with this post, but it’s worth your time if you like character studies. I should have finished it long ago but I’m lingering over it, savoring it. I don’t want it to end.
Oh, and Merry Christmas if you swing that way.