I sit at the keyboard this morning, having just completed reading Balls on the D train on my way down to West 4th Street, and I imagine the keys of a piano in front of me. Melancholy might be the first word that comes to mind when I think about this novel, but also well crafted, like a song its protagonist Henry Schiller is always trying to create. That perfect New York song… the one that will define him.
What else defines him in this novel?
Well, the women he dates, or sleeps with more accurately, as even though there is one flame in his heart, there are many women in his life both past and present that he talks about in great detail. Constantly falling in and out of relationships, most tragically as it often happens, love is something he struggles with, especially with his young and talented girlfriend, Paula.
Manhattan is another large piece of his identity. Although Henry lives in Tudor City, near the UN, and plays piano in a bar nearby, he travels around the picturesque city via cab and on foot, wandering, looking for himself in bars, nightclubs, the bottom of a glass, or more specifically at the piano. He is always seeking out therapy through manipulating the keys and loosing himself trying to write a song.
Lastly, there is the cancer. He is told he has testicular cancer and struggles dealing with the reality of this serious diagnosis. His life takes sudden twists and turns all encompassed by this threat to his very existence. Can he find the love, the support, or the perfect song to guide him through, to make everything alright?
It is a strange trip, but one worth going on. Take this trip if you’re looking for a New York story, or the story of a young man struggling to find his way or if you’re looking simply enjoy the lyrical craft of Tepper’s writing. I saw this talented writer read aloud a sample of this novel at the Brooklyn Book Festival last month, and it was well worth tracking down.All of it… well played.