The Uni­verse Play­ing Strings

R. M. Kinder

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews - MEA­GAN LOGSDON

Uni­ver­sity of New Mex­ico Press Soft­cover $19.95 (240pp) 978-0-8263-5741-0

The un­der­tone of a word­less an­swer to lone­li­ness and doubt runs be­neath its lines of el­e­gantly crafted prose.

The Uni­verse Play­ing Strings, by R. M. Kinder, is a ta­pes­try of mid­dle Amer­ica threaded with mu­sic, as souls drift into each other’s spheres hum­ming a com­mon lan­guage.

Four lives in­ter­twine in Tus­con, Ari­zona: those of Carl, an el­derly fid­dler; Cora, a mid­dle-aged in­ter­me­di­ate musician; Amy, a tal­ented gui­tar picker; and Jack, a young rock gui­tarist and son of a fa­mous au­thor. Though the par­tic­u­lars of their sto­ries vary, all four in­di­vid­u­als are seek­ing a deeper mean­ing to their lives, and mu­sic fills the void. Carl leaves Ok­la­homa in the wake of a dis­as­trous re­la­tion­ship with a younger woman for a new be­gin­ning at a re­pair shop in Tuc­son. Amy strug­gles with her cur­rent boyfriend’s ego and anger is­sues. Cora is in love with mu­sic but be­lieves her­self un­wor­thy of that world. And Jack is form­ing his own iden­tity sep­a­rate from any­one else, es­pe­cially his fa­ther. Though their paths cross many times, each finds his or her own self-re­al­iza­tion in unique ways.

Jam ses­sions, con­tests, and the sim­ple play­ing of a record form the lifeblood of this novel. Mu­sic halls and out­door venues are painted in evoca­tive de­tail. Pages breathe with the tun­ing of in­stru­ments and per­for­mances. Though some scenes grav­i­tate away from th­ese hal­lowed sanc­tu­ar­ies, the hu­man drama is still un­der­cut by mu­sic. Riffs, strings, chords, and lyrics meld to­gether into philoso­phies that drive each char­ac­ter for­ward and pre­vent stag­na­tion. The theme of be­long­ing echoes be­tween the dif­fer­ing strands of the ta­pes­try.

Each char­ac­ter is flawed in re­al­is­tic ways, though that does not lessen the abil­ity to sym­pa­thize with any of them. In­ter­ac­tions can tend to­ward the raw and pro­fane—char­ac­ters of­ten use sex as a cop­ing mech­a­nism—but th­ese mo­ments, al­ways vi­tal to the story, are quickly el­e­vated by mu­sic, philo­soph­i­cal con­tem­pla­tion, or both with­out los­ing any vis­ceral im­pact. A lovely com­po­si­tion, The Uni­verse Play­ing Strings sings the uni­ver­sal song of hu­man long­ing for con­nec­tion. The un­der­tone of a word­less an­swer to lone­li­ness and doubt runs be­neath its lines of el­e­gantly crafted prose.

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