Monday, May 23, 2016

"Contrary Motion"

Andy Mozina is a professor of English at Kalamazoo College and the author of the short story collections The Women Were Leaving the Men, which won the Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award, and Quality Snacks, which was a finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Prize.

Mozina applied the Page 69 Test to Contrary Motion, his debut novel, and reported the following:
Turns out page 69 is a pretty representative slice of my novel. Matt, my protagonist, is a divorced harpist preparing for a symphony audition, and in this scene he discovers a problem with his instrument while practicing:
Within ten measures I notice a buzz in the sixth-octave C string. I have to pull on it hard to get the volume I need, but the harder I pull, the worse the buzz. I tune that string again, but that’s not the problem. I give the instrument a once-over, and sure enough, there’s a hairline crack in the short hump of wood that connects the neck to the top of the soundboard. It wasn’t noticeable just after I dropped the harp, and earlier this week, when I sometimes heard the slight tremors that herald a buzz, I had put off a careful reexamination. But now I see the crack exists. For their whole lives the neck and the soundboard have wanted to kiss, two thousand pounds of pressure pulling them together, and now they are a speck closer, and the bass string knows it.

“Shit,” I say.
Among other things, the novel dramatizes the day-to-day grind of artistic ambition, including dealing with this type of mechanical breakdown. The novel also explores connections between the artist’s personal and professional lives. Why did Matt drop his harp in the first place? After a night of bungled sex with his girlfriend, our hero drinks himself to sleep on his living room couch and thus does not hear his alarm going off in his bedroom, calling him to rise and head off to his Sunday morning brunch gig. Late for brunch, he rushes loading his harp into his station wagon—and drops it! Thus his dubious sexual performance is slyly (or not so slyly) linked to his wounded instrument. This reinforces the notion that the harpist’s instrument is an extension of his mind and body, a somewhat true and also dangerous idea that messes with Matt’s head. But this scene also acknowledges that the harp is a thing, a separate object, something that the musician must exert absolute control over in performance, yet, maddeningly, has a vulnerable life of its own. What’s not in this scene is Matt’s relationship with his daughter, which is a counterpoint to his relationship with his harp and the women to whom he’s attracted (his ex-wife and his girlfriend). Matt’s fraught bond with his harp and these women is contrasted with his more natural, if difficult in its own way, bond with his daughter.
Visit Andy Mozina's website.

--Marshal Zeringue