Mary Mikule Reviews The Sound of Songs Across the Water by Rob Yardumian
From what I gathered from the back cover, I did not expect to like this book. When it comes to music, I’m the ultimate ignorant consumer, pretty much taking in wholesale whatever is piped at me through the radio waves. People who know a lot about music generally intimidate me, what with their secret-club jargon and bottomless supply of obscure band factoids, not to mention that they serve as a painful reminder of my disappointing past as the third-grade piano class drop-out. So when the synopsis of The Sound of Songs Across the Water told me that the story would be a tale of an aspiring rock star and his adventures of “camaraderie and betrayal in the obsessive world of the music industry,” I was less than thrilled. Great, three hundred pages of words I won’t know and references I won’t get.
But that opinion didn’t hold up long as I found myself securely hooked into this well-tuned literary world only three pages in. The characters of the novel are what first drew me in; they reminded me of the witty, sarcastic real-life characters I’m lucky to surround myself with, and the dialogue consistently resounds clever and real. I love that the story doesn’t shy away from revealing the characters’ deep flaws and contradictions, and the result is a fascinating cast of relatable individuals that I couldn’t stop turning the pages to get to know. Thus, I was happily submerged in the musical scene of Los Angeles before I realized it. For me, the novel read like a well-done fantasy tale, inviting me into a world I know nothing about and answering all my questions without making me feel stupid for asking them.
I’d expected to like the story in spite of its musical backdrop, but the exact opposite turned out to be true; I found the most resonant passages of the novel to be the descriptions of the music that weaves throughout the story. For me, these were the parts that really set this text apart from others I’d read and it was what welcomed me into the world of the story on a level I can understand- the diction. I may not fully understand specifics of what the music sounds like, but the words convey exactly the way it feels, which is an even more powerful image to receive from a text. I’ll let one of my favorite passages speak for itself:
‘Love Left Town’ was a rave-up, a walk-out, a song of cheap brown dope and sympathy, so he aimed for the right spot in his throat –a high, sharp sound, a keening… And then he was into the bridge, the keening come true, minor chords swimming darkly. (31)
My biggest complaint concerning this book is that I don’t feel that the back cover summary does justice to the compelling story snuggled beneath it. After reading the story and getting to know and love the characters, seeing Lena being referred to simply as Will Taylor’s “smoking wife” is a travesty that makes me feel like I’ve caught someone talking smack about a friend of mine. That being said, when a slight over a fictional character gets me this riled up, I think it’s a sign that Yardumian has accomplished a job very well done.