Saturday, March 9, 2013

Accordion Crimes by E. Annie Proulx

Over a century, a small green button accordion makes it way around America

This book had no unifying plot apart from the accordion changing hands from one despised ethnic immigrant culture to another. The accordion is created by an Italian dock worker in New Orleans, and the accordion is destroyed a hundred years later by a tractor trailer in, where else, but Louisiana. In between, we visit backwaters such as Quebec, Texas, Chicago, and Wyoming. Each section also features a new more technologically advanced type of accordion, though the little green one always tags along. I learned a lot about accordions, as well as about working class America, since the accordion is a working class instrument. Ultimately, though I coldly admired the ambition, Accordion Crimes went on far too long. Some sections were delightful (Wyoming) and some were a chore (the Germans).

Because there really wasn’t a main character, the tension didn’t build. E. Annie Proulx takes an unseemly glee in dispatching her characters. In addition to being an encyclopedia of accordions, this book is also a glib accounting of all the crazy ways to die. I dreaded the next time somebody was about to walk into a chain saw. Also, there were a lot of premonitory narrative intrusions informing the reader of the horrific yet comical fashion some minor character would meet his Maker.

This novel reminded me of Great House, which also structures its plot around an object (an ornate desk), but Great House built to something, felt like an emotional totality, with the emotions building with each successive character that owned the desk. Any emotions that built up here were frittered away mechanically.  The book felt sort of tricksy. The prose was highly polished and energetic but didn’t move me.

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