Two Women and a Piano Make for a Break-Out Novel of the Year
In this inventive and inspiring saga of a novel the reader is taken through decades and introduced to varying locations, with a Blüthner piano as the common thread between the two primary characters. “The Weight of a Piano” by Chris Cander beautifully and convincingly explores themes of memory and identity. After being given the backstory of the piano’s creation 1905 from trees deep in the Romanian hillside, readers are introduced to Clara, a twenty-something car mechanic living in present day Bakersfield California. She’s recently lost her boyfriend and apartment, but takes it in stride as loss is second nature to her. She’s been orphaned by two sets of parents- her actual parents, who’s deaths are somewhat of a mystery- and her aunt and uncle who took her in afterwards at the age of twelve. She’s a somewhat lonely and unambitious young woman who seems content just be a fix cars and shoot the shit with colleagues. She’s as skilled a mechanic as she is keeping friends and perspective romantic partners at arms length.
From Clara we go back in time to 1962 Soviet Union. There we are introduced to Katya as a young child and she has been bequeathed a Blüthner piano by a neighbor. It is not long before the piano becomes the love of her life, connecting her to her father and fond childhood memories. She revels in playing it, study it, letting her natural musical talent afford her academic opportunities far beyond her families financial limitations. After she marries and is made to immigrate to the U.S. by her husband against her desires and better judgement, she insists the piano be apart of their new life. Her husband agrees, but the reunion with her beloved piano ends up being many years in the making. Katya and her husband struggle greatly in America, driving her husband to drink, depression and abusive tendancies. For Katya, her nightmares have come to fruition; she aches for her parents and her homeland, and she fears the worst for her young son. After twelve long years, her one eventual glimmer of hope is realized when through a series of fortunate events, her Blüthner is delivered to her. It soon becomes her obsession and passion as she spends the days while her son is in school, practicing on her piano and giving lessons to others. It is a welcome reprieve from her husband’s depression and abuse, and it is a catalyst of much deserved romance in her otherwise miserable existence.
The good times are short-lived as it is then through a series of unfortunate events, that Katya is separated from her lover and is forced to relinquish the Blüthner in order to save it. As a result, it unexpectedly appears in 12-year-old Clara’s life. Unlike Katya, Clara never really learns how to play it, but she does develop an attachment to it, associating it to her father. Although practicality dictates she sell it, she cannot. She can, however, rent it out. But even at that, she feels compelled to follow it and the young man intent on using it for a photography project in Death Valley desert. Cander’s story of characters traveling through time and circumstance glides and entices, with alternating stories appearing in alternating chapters. In the hands of a lesser writer, this format could be tedious and the story overall could be melodramatic, but Cander lovingly develops Katya and Clara, weaving endlessly surprising twists and turns. The tragic and baffling connection between the two women and the Blüthner is powerful. While their story is compelling in and of itself, it is the novel’s themes beyond that of love, loss, letting go and accepting, that make it relatable and riveting. It is a testament to the resilience of womanhood and hope in the restorative nature of the human heart. All that coupled with Cander’s fluid and subtle yet potent style make for what will be one of the break-out novels of the year, and writer with a rising literary star.