⇒“Life is a perfect combination of chance and choreography.” —Musical Chairs by Amy Poeppel⇐
**Many thanks to NetGalley, Atria Books/Emily Bestler Books, and the author for the opportunity to read a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.
Author: Amy Poeppel
(4.07 stars – Goodreads rating)
Genre: Fiction / Contemporary Romance / Women’s Lit.
Publication Date: July 21, 2020, by Atria/Emily Bestler Books
416 Pages (Hardcover)
She was at the edge of something new, in that space before you begin.
If 2020 has taught us nothing, it has taught us about canceled plans. Graduations, weddings, parties, concerts — so many events in the past six months have been canceled or modified. One may cry about missing out on a prom, another may be angry over not being able to celebrate a 40th birthday, and yet another may take it all in stride, postponing events for a year (or so) and looking forward to better days. It all depends on the type of person you are.
As for my family, we had to cancel a highly anticipated cruise, modify my daughter’s 12th birthday, and we, sadly, won’t be able to attend the funeral of my 94-year-old grandmother who lived out of state. I had three very different reactions to each of those events because I had plans for the first two and would have made plans for the last. Making plans and having those plans thwarted is a big deal.
What does any of this have to do with Musical Chairs? Bridget, the main character, makes plans to spend a romantic summer with her boyfriend. And in catastrophic pandemic-style, things don’t quite go her way — on any front. Let’s check out the blurb…
Bridget and Will have the kind of relationship that people envy: they’re loving, compatible, and completely devoted to each other. The fact that they’re strictly friends seems to get lost on nearly everyone; after all, they’re as good as married in (almost) every way. For three decades, they’ve nurtured their baby, the Forsyth Trio—a chamber group they created as students with their Juilliard classmate Gavin Glantz. In the intervening years, Gavin has gone on to become one of the classical music world’s reigning stars, while Bridget and Will have learned to embrace the warm reviews and smaller venues that accompany modest success.
Bridget has been dreaming of spending the summer at her well-worn Connecticut country home with her boyfriend Sterling. But her plans are upended when Sterling, dutifully following his ex-wife’s advice, breaks up with her over email and her twin twenty-somethings arrive unannounced, filling her empty nest with their big dogs, dirty laundry, and respective crises.
Bridget has problems of her own: her elderly father announces he’s getting married, and the Forsyth Trio is once again missing its violinist. She concocts a plan to host her dad’s wedding on her ramshackle property, while putting the Forsyth Trio back into the spotlight. But to catch the attention of the music world, she and Will place their bets on luring back Gavin, whom they’ve both avoided ever since their stormy parting.
With music as a guide for the synchronized movement of the group, knots untangle and the dancers glide. Such is life.
Let’s start by saying that this book is aptly named. There are so many moving parts, so many pieces of the plot-puzzle to fit together, and so many players trying to create this picture. What am I saying? There are like a thousand characters in this book. OK, OK, I’m exaggerating, but there really are quite a lot. Who is Frank again? And is James the caretaker or is it John? Or was it Paul (or another one of the Beatles’ names – although definitely not Ringo)? And the boyfriend’s name is “Sterling”. Seriously. It is NOT a spoiler alert to tell you now that this dude does not last long. I rue the day I have to read an entire book where one of the main character’s names is Sterling. Hard pass. (Plus, it doesn’t pass the When Harry Met Sally “Rock me big [insert guy’s name here]” test. According to Harry, if your guy’s name sounds good in that sentence, he’s a keeper. If not, no big loss.
Once you get used to the masses of people popping in and out of every chapter, you will enjoy the chaotic action and summery atmosphere of this charming book. With plenty of quirky circumstances and a cornucopia of relatives, friends, friends of relatives, and animals occupying every paragraph, you can almost hear the manic notes of a high-speed game of musical chairs as you read. There were guinea hens and goats. A flock of each.
What is life but a series of inspired follies? Never lose a chance: it doesn’t come every day.
It’s like being invited to a friend’s family reunion where you’re immediately introduced to three dozen people and you have to keep them all straight or you will be denied punch and chocolate cake at the end. It’s a daunting task, but hey, what else have you got to do?
Musical Chairs strikes a comfortable balance between uncomfortable reality and folly-filled humor that made it a joy to read over a few idle summer evenings. It is a welcome escape into someone else’s chaos for a while that did my heart and mind good.
Here is Amy Poeppel guaranteeing that this novel is NOT autobiographical!
Want even more? Listen to an excerpt of Musical Chairs here
(Courtesy Simon & Schuster)
Amy Poeppel is the author of the novels MUSICAL CHAIRS, LIMELIGHT, and SMALL ADMISSIONS. Originally from Dallas, Texas, she lives with her husband and three sons in New York City and Frankfurt, Germany. Her writing has appeared on The Rumpus, The Belladonna Comedy, Mock Mom, and Working Mother. -bio from goodreads.com