INCIDENTAL MUSIC by Lydia Perovic (Inan na), 257 pages, $22.95 paper. Rating: NN
Lydia Perovic shows flashes of brilliance in Incidental Music, but they don't make up for the novel's serious literary lapses.
The book - a 2013 Lambda Literary Award finalist - follows three women living very different lives. Petra, a new immigrant to Toronto from Montenegro, can't hold down a job and decides to become a volunteer companion to Romola, a former opera star with a complex political past in Hungary who's rapidly descending into dementia. When Petra falls in love with heritage building devotee Martha, a married woman, she begins to invest way too much in the relationship.
The story fails to launch because the characters talk way too much. The first chapter, in which soon-to-be-fired college prof Petra is supposed to demonstrate her teaching skills, gets bogged down in a dreary classroom discussion of free speech. In the second, Martha proves a total bore as she walks the streets of Toronto extolling its hidden architectural gems to a friend. Two or three stops along the way are enough to make the point. We don't need 20.
Slogging along, you find a few bursts of energy. A paragraph about how speaking a second language feels like wearing ill-fitting clothes shows real insight. A section where Petra volunteers for an obnoxiously demanding MP rings very true. And the sex, too, feels authentic.
But the novel's weaknesses take over. Martha's open relationship with her husband, Daniel, is sensitively portrayed, but her liaison with Petra is a muddle.
And no sooner do you admire the way Perovic has tracked Petra's transition to near-homelessness than you're asking, "If she can't pay her rent, how is she paying for her cellphone?"
But Perovic and her editors can't worry about that, since the cellphone's required for a key plot point.
There is definitely talent here, just not a great novel - yet.
Perovic reads alongside Shyam Selvadurai and Elizabeth Ruth at Another Story, Tuesday (June 25). See Readings, this page.