Last year I read and loved Rebecca Makkai’s novel The Hundred-year House (Ms. Makkai was kind enough to agree to an interview, too), and so I was delighted to read that a collection of her short stories would appear this summer.
Music for Wartime is that collection, and it’s excellent. In well over a dozen stories spanning more than a decade of her writing career, Ms. Makkai traverses a wide landscape of emotion, space, and time, drawing from her family’s history (some of the strongest pieces in the collection are very short family legends) and her own power of invention.
In one story, an elephant dies mid-act in a small town during the 1940s, ushering in some very strange weather and serious questions for the local pastor. In another, a reality-TV producer steers contestants into producing perfect soundbites—and maybe toward falling in love. In “Painted Ocean, Painted Ship,” a professor accidentally shoots an albatross, and the hefty fine is just the beginning of her bad luck.
Often funny, often sad, and always graceful, these stories are linked by themes of art and war, or at least violence, as you might suspect from the title. You’ll find painters, sculptors, violinists, circus performers, and even Bach within these pages. It’s a tribute to Ms. Makkai’s virtuosity that it’s very difficult, often impossible, to tell which stories are earlier efforts and which are more recent. I was only disappointed when I turned the last page.
Boston Readers: You just missed Rebecca Makkai at Newtonville Books and Harvard Bookstore—sorry about that—but if you’re trekking up to Vermont this summer, you can hear her read in Burlington at Phoenix Books on July 28th at 7p.m.
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes, which did not affect the content of my review.