Other People's Books

And now, I need to talk about The Hum and the Shiver

I said as much in my previous post, but I’m pulling this up to a post of its own because it’s absolutely worth it: I’m about halfway through The Hum and the Shiver by Alex Bledsoe.

I could and should tell you that, pursuant to the previous post’s topic, this book is a) written by a male author, and b) passes the Bechdel at least twice, and this is with me being only about halfway through. But what I really want to tell you is oh holy hopping gods I love this book so much. It could commit several sins in the second half–though I’m really hoping it doesn’t, because I want to finish this up and plow straight into Book 2, Wisp of a Thing, now that it’s out–and I’ll still love it. And here’s why.

For one thing, I’ve posted before about how, although you couldn’t pay me to live again in the South, I am indeed from there, and stories set there tend to resonate with me. Like this one.

But for another, and way more importantly, Bledsoe has created the Tufa, a people who live and breathe music. And when I say ‘live and breathe’, I don’t mean just to the degree you might think of if you’re part of a culture where music is important. The Tufa aren’t just people with a musical tradition. These are people for whom music is woven into the very fabric of their lives. All of them sing, play instruments, and make songs. They get together every night for that express purpose.

The book starts off with Bronwyn Hyatt, a veteran of the war in Iraq, coming home to her family after being severely wounded. And because of the trauma of her injuries, she’s taken a bad hit to her ability to make music. Many of you will probably remember that back in 2003, I broke my arm. Which wasn’t remotely in the same league as the injuries that Bronwyn sustains in the story–but I’m here to tell you, my heart cracked for her when she tried to hold her mandolin and realized she couldn’t play. Because I remembered exactly what it felt like to be unable to play my guitar.

And without going into spoiler territory, I’ll say also that in the bits I just read today, there’s a scene where all of Bronwyn’s family has finally gathered in their home. The very first thing they do when that happens is whip out their instruments and start playing “John Barleycorn”. And again, my heart cracked, because I want to be in a family like that. And a third time, when the music began to work palpable magic on Bronwyn and she was able to play with her family.

There’s a subplot too, involving another character of partial Tufa blood, who reaches out to that part of him and begins to rediscover his musical ability. That, too, makes my heart sweetly ache. Because hi, yeah, I’ve been doing exactly that the last several years of my adult life, after losing the connection to my music when I broke my flute in school.

In the context of the story it’s very, very clear that music is literal magic to the Tufa. “Yes, well, fantasy novel,” you might say. But anyone who’s ever picked up an instrument in their lives will tell you that it’s absolutely true.

There are reasons the Murkworks has so many instruments, played by myself and Dara both. Reasons why you will find at least one musician if not more in almost everything I write. And most of all, reasons why I have to go to session even if I play only one or two songs. There is a special kind of power in a gathering of people who are there for the express purpose of making music.

And I adore this book for celebrating that power no matter what else I’ll find in the second half. I can’t wait to finish it up. And I fully expect that, like any good song, it’ll stay in my heart forever.

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