Book Review: Bellweather Rhapsody
By Kate Racculia
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
This book genuinely surprised me, multiple times. It moved between characters in interconnected vignettes, all in one decaying formerly-grand hotel in upstate New York. It moved between genres and themes: suspense, violent horror, coming of age, romance, friendships and family.
At first, I wasn’t sure about it, based on the first few pages, which include a gory bloodbath right out of a horror movie. I’m squeamish about these things! I kept reading, intrigued by the mystery, and by the fact that the next chapter was a flash forward to a statewide music competition as if nothing morbid had happened just a few pages before.
Glad I pushed through to read more. The story juggled a lot of genres. Horror. Mystery. Coming of age for a number of different characters, not all of whom were teenagers.
Plot twists genuinely surprised me. But, despite varying in mood and pacing, and shifting between different characters’ voices and perspectives to tell the story, the transitions never felt jarring. Suspenseful and fast in spots, but not jarring in a disruptive way.
Characters had quirks, or had events in their past that were informing their current story… but they weren’t Quirky with a Capital Q characters for the most part, and their tragedies worked as events that had happened, rather than as tropes. Even for characters who had Capital Q quirky moments (probably inevitable for a story set at a performance competition), being able to get inside their heads for point of view helped provide balance to give their oddities context. There were a couple of moments at the very end I wasn’t completely sold on… but I think the combination of getting characters’ perspectives in vignettes, and the fact that larger-than-life performing eccentrics were in play, as well as a horror-movie setup, made it work in context.
Plus, the story was genuinely funny, and warm in parts.
Much of the action of the story takes place on a weekend in the mid-nineties. Now, just about twenty years later (yow, I feel old), does that make it a historical novel? Will it age into becoming one as it’s read over the next few years? I’m not sure. And I’m not sure that’s even an important question to ask. Yes, a character listens to music on a Discman. But it’s more about the history that individual characters have than anchored in a set era.
I stayed up very late reading this the night before last. I blame my curiosity about the mystery, and the fact that plot twists legitimately kept me guessing. I can’t remember the last time a book surprised me this well: with plausible, genuinely interesting surprises that made sense to the story. (That’s the main reason I’ve been so vague in the description of specific characters: I want you to be surprised when you read this, too.)
The shifting characters and vignettes also made this an ideal book to read for me right now, since I’ve been in such a restless reading mood. I’d be curious to read more by the same author, and I can genuinely say I don’t know what I’d expect.