The Violin Conspiracy: suspense and music
The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb
Genre: General Fiction
Good Morning America Bookclub pick
Published February 2022; 333 pages
First Sentence: "On the morning of the worst, most earth-shattering day of Ray McMillan's life, he ordered room service: scrambled eggs for two, one side of regular bacon (for Nicole), one side of vegan sausage (for him), one coffee (for Nicole), one orange juice (for him)."
" He [Ray] would tell you that music is truly a universal language, and that we, the listeners, will always impose our own fears and biases, our own hopes and hungers, on whatever we hear. He would tell you that the rhythm that spurred on Tchaikovsky is the same rhythm that a kid in a redneck North Carolina town would beat with a stick against a fallen tree. It is a rhythm in all of us. Music is about communication - a way of touching your fellow man beyond and above and below language; it is a language all its own."
This quote is the heart of the story; the core of Ray and his life story. A poor black kid who loves playing the violin and holds to his dream with the support of only one person, his beloved grandma, finds the world of classical music a harsh environment for a young black boy. When his grandma gifts him his great grandfather's fiddle, it's in terrible disrepair, but he spends a little of his hard earned money for some basic repair. He loves the violin because of what it represents to him and his grandma.
Then at a high school concert, a college scout discovers Ray and offers a full scholarship. With great resistance from his mom and family, he goes to college and develops his skills. Through a series of events, it is discovered that the old fiddle from his great grandfather is a Stradivarius and worth millions. Hmmmm - suddenly his family comes out of the woodwork, each with their hand held out.
Family lore is that PopPop (great grandfather) was a slave and his master (and possible father) gave the violin to him when he freed him. When the white slave-owner family hears of the Stradivarius, they also demand it back and claim it was never a gift - who would gift that to a black slave? Then, his violin is stolen.
"So how was it possible, how was it even conceivable, that he would somehow believe that racism didn't apply to him, that white people would just ignore his skin? He was dressed in a suit, with a nice tie, and he spoke with the same accent they did; his handshake was firm and his gaze direct. He knew he had a great smile on the rare occasions when he smiled. He wasn't the smartest kid, but he was smarter than most. None of that mattered. . . . He was just a Black person. That's all they saw and that's all he was."
Ray deals with all sorts of racism - slight verbal cuts to run ins with police. He deals with family who are verbally abusive and selfish. He deals with the stress of preparing for a competition. It's a lot for a young man to handle, and then when his violin, his heart and soul are taken, he feels adrift - and like he's lost an appendage.
"He hurled himself in, giving the piece all of his soul. His body was on autopilot, and he could tell even as he played that this was vastly better than anything he'd ever performed before. The mournful opening notes gave way to sunlight on a park bench, to the glitter of water pouring endlessly from a wterfall on a very hot summer day. When the last note rang out, his listeners leapt to their feet."
Although I'm not any kind of classical music aficionado, and couldn't tell you a Mozart from a Bach, the way music is described throughout The Violin Conspiracy is mesmerizing. It captured my imagination and made me think I could love classical music. It reminds me of the way color is talked about in Pale Morning Light With Violet Swan.
There is a slight mystery - who took the violin and why (maybe $10 million ??) but it's not the point of the story. To me the focus is the character of Ray and his connection to music and the underlying, ever present, specter of racism.
I found the whole story captivating: the character of Ray is so well drawn and the growth from an uncertain young boy to an accomplished young man is authentically done. The inclusion of racism isn't gratuitous or unexpected and made me feel - angry, frustrated, afraid. The violin is discovered missing in the first chapter and then the story goes back a year and hits the high points of his life and the violin. The suspense builds slowly but surely as all the pressures Ray faces and the uncertainty about the location of the violin is very well handled.
I highly recommend this book for readers who enjoy a character driven story, a story about a protagonist overcoming impossible odds, or a story with beautiful writing and complex characters.
Literary Escape: 6/51 (Georgia) and 10 bonus (out of USA)
Library Love: 14/65+
COYER 1st semester: 23 books read