Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Song is You

It was, and remains, the most wonderful compliment that I had ever received about my writing: "I love this. I feel like you wrote it just for me."

I think that all artists have an ideal reader (or listener, or viewer). That person that you want to understand what you're doing. The person whose opinion is the most important one because he or she gets your art like no one else does. And sometimes, that person, that ideal reader, begins to influence your art as well.

The extraordinary new book, The Song is You, by Arthur Phillips, considers, among other things, the relationship between an artist and the man who, for a moment, becomes, perhaps, her ideal listener. I don't want to say too much about what happens in the book, because I want  you to read it, and discover that for yourself. But it is wonderful. Phillips' prose is scintillating and clever, and, as one might expect, full of musical references. (I quite desperately want to borrow his iPod.)

But for me, the thing that turned this from a good book, one I was glad I bought, and would happily loan to a friend and not worry about getting back, into a book that I will buy copies of for my friends and read over and again, was the ending. Endings are tricky. They must be earned and are difficult to do properly. One of the things that has resonated with me most since Clarion is the idea that an ending must be the right one for the characters. Not the one you want to give them, or the one that they want. Not the happy ending or resonating tragedy you think will please or impress your readers. But the ending must be what is right. And oh, does Phillips get this ending right. He gets it in a way that reverberates back through the entirety of the book, and means I will be going back and rereading as a writer, to see the places in the novel where the pieces fell into place, where the perspectives were changed, and the choices were made that led up to the absolute rightness of what happened. It was amazingly well done.

A number of you have indicated an interest in writers who fence. (Fencers who write? Some sort of pen/ sword connection, anyway.) For those of you with such an interest, Arthur Phillips is a former competitive fencer. And yes, there is a very quick fencing reference in the book. Go find a copy.


  1. Hmm. I seem to recall hearing an interview with Phillips on NPR about this book. Was interested then, am more interested now that I've heard a positive review from someone other than the author and interviewer. Will add this to my (never-ending) book list!

  2. I had a rough time with his Prague, but you've made this one sound so tempting that I'll have to give it a try.

    Oh, Em and I went to an ice cream place and we thought of you. Mostly because they had a lavender and chocolate flavor. Also because there was a cabernet (!) ice cream studded with dark chocolate that I thought you'd appreciate.

    And endings are so very hard.

  3. Megan - You might also consider beginning with Angelica. Terri Windling loved it, and it's a ghost story. I haven't tried Prague or The Egyptologist yet, but I loved The Song is You so much that I will.

    And amazing ice cream flavors are yet one more reason to write lots, so I can move to SF.