Slim pickings

Rating: NNNYou get the feeling that Nancy Huston wrote this book in her sleep. That doesn't make Prodigy bad or.

Rating: NNN

You get the feeling that Nancy Huston wrote this book in her sleep. That doesn’t make Prodigy bad or boring — just a little bit too easy. Lara is a failed concert pianist. She gives birth to the very premature Maya, whom she nurtures through a terrifying incubation period. This trauma triggers the collapse of her marriage and raises Lara’s stake in her daughter’s artistic future. Be careful what you wish for, Huston warns. Maya does emerge as a keyboard genius, catching the attention of Europe’s most prestigious instructor, and that’s more than Lara bargained for.

The novella touches on Huston’s familiar obsessions: a woman’s passion for her art collides with her passion for her child when her offspring begins to play with a virtuosity well beyond that of her grown mother.

Pianists will appreciate the technical detail, and music lovers will like the commentary on piano classics that’s subtly built into the narrative. There’s a note on Bach’s C-minor Fugue here, a row over the tempo of Chopin’s second Ballade there.

And an unusual friendship between the 10-year-old Maya and the insect-loving 14-year-old boy next door has a ton of charm.

But casting the aging grandmother as the archetypal all-seeing Tiresias figure is way too tired a device.

And the frame for the story is too tidy. You could argue that a novella is meant to be exactly this way, crafty and intense. But this is an accomplished author — the Calgary-born, Paris-based Huston has been shortlisted for both the Giller and Governor General’s Award — and these are her deepest personal preoccupations.

There’s a novel in there, for sure. So giving us this slim tidbit is a little bit lazy.

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