Title: Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis
Author: Vaughn Petterson
Rating: Very Good!
Web Page: https://www.createspace.com/3408545
Reviewed by: Eric Jones
# How to use the database of reviews
I have always been of the opinion that music cannot be translated through text. There are many counters to this opinion which are valid. After all, lyrics can certainly give recreate a feeling of rhythm and there is always sheet music. But for me music, real music, happens in performance and in listening. Vaughn Petterson does a good job of describing the music of Vaughan Williams work during a particular scene in his new book, ďFantasia: on a Theme of Thomas TallisĒ, also titled from a musical work of Williamsí. The descriptions of the music in the concert serve as a kind of parallel for the journey of the novelís protagonist, Joe, and do a good job of reflecting how the overall book works. Itís interesting to see music so vividly interpreted for the page, and has some wonderful turns, but as I said, the translation is not without fault.
The story of Joe is one of the broken American dream. Joe is a day trader whose luck has taken a turn for the worse. His wife leaves him for another man, his money is all but gone, and all of his friends are liberal elitists who shun him for his conservative opinions. He needs to rebuild, and does so after meeting a beautiful Mexican immigrant named Maria, who rekindles his spirit and leads him to a renewed since of vigor. Along the way, Petterson seems to attack themes across the board, from politics to philosophy, many of which only touch the main plot arc, but these points seem important to Petterson. Those who share similar thoughts of life will agree him and find safe haven in ďFantasiaĒ, but those who donít are not likely to find themselves persuaded.
The concert scene is a chief example of this, since itís descriptions of music are so heavily text-laden that they seem to swallow up the chief purpose of the scene, which is that Maria and Joe share a spiritual connection through this music. The scene might be an attempt to trace a parallel between the tragedy and joy of Joe and Mariaís life together, but since the topics that the music covers are so broad, and so far reaching, they could be a parallel for anything. Not to mention that it wouldnít take nearly so many pages to illustrate such a parallel. Iím more apt to believe that it is an attempt to make the reader actually hear the music through Pettersonís description of it, which is problematic for reasons Iíve already described. Also, important of note is that often Pettersonís opinion is blatant enough to skew the readerís perspective.
Another scene in which this happens is during a lengthy argument that Joe has at a party with his liberal friends. The conversation turns ugly after somebody mentions that harder immigration laws are racist, and Joe begs to differ. The point of this scene is that Joe doesnít fit in with his wifeís crowd, and that their marriage is ultimately doomed, but in the interest of political debate, the scene goes on much further than needed. Here again, if you are apt to agree with Petterson, then you might not mind the digression, but much of it isnít necessary to further the story. These philosophical asides can even hinder the story at times, when it becomes obvious that characters are being unreasonable merely in the interest of making the authorís point. The doctor who insists on euthanizing his patient when there is clearly a chance that the patient could survive is another example. Why would a doctor do this? Because doctors are bureaucratically minded soulless individuals, of course.
Itís important to note that these asides do not detract from the overall enjoyment of the book. I enjoyed the first chapter as much as I did the last, reveling in the combination of satire, drama, and a parade of allusions that become so thick that the book should have an index. But they do damage the pacing of the book, making it a slow ride through Pettersonís worldview. It will draw in a great deal of readers, and turn away many others. The greatest point of ďFantasia: on a Theme of Thomas TallisĒ is that by the end of it you will stand firmly on Pettersonís side, or firmly on the opposite. And that, ultimately, is Pettersonís point.