REVIEW: Rhapsody for Piano and Ghost by Z.A. Maxfield
Dear Ms. Maxfield:
This was a fascinating novel. I’m still not sure what to make of it, but I couldn’t put it down and enjoyed reading it.
Fitz is a musical prodigy — a pianist since he was six. But he’s been utterly sheltered his whole life. His mother marries Husband #8 and goes to England for a year, agreeing to let Fitz go to a private arts school before college. There he meets Garrett. From the excerpt, I expected Garrett to be the love interest, but turns out that on their first date, he peer pressures Fitz into take Ecstasy, attempts to date rape him in the club bathroom, and then leaves Fitz in a dumpster, where he is found by a pair of World War Two-era, European, gay ghosts. After going home with them, watching them have sex, and stealing a cassole pot when the real owners of the house come home, Fitz has to call Ari, his divorced step-brother, to come rescue him.
It wasn’t as confusing when I was reading it. You have a gift for writing that makes me just dive into and float with the current of the narrative. It works in the story itself and makes me want to keep reading.
Fitz is the center of the story. He’s lonely, shy, and trying to figure out who he is and who he wants to be. He’s got his music but he doesn’t believe he has anything else. He’s experimenting with Goth while his mother’s away, and, ironically, also experimenting with trying to be normal. He doesn’t quite manage to pull off either. He’s nineteen and awkward and starved for attention, starved even for touch, and trying to find someone who values him.
Garrett is an asshole. He out for what he can get and he sees Fitz as an easy mark. He’s not a point of view character and it says more about Fitz than about Garrett when Fitz makes excuses for him.
Ari…was strange. When I was reading, I had no idea Ari was going to exist, so when Fitz called him to save him, I thought he was much older and had no idea he was the second hero. I had to flip to the end to figure out who Fitz was going to end up with before I could continue reading. Ari is at least 25, but probably 27 or so, to Fitz’s 19, which was slightly disturbing. They’d been step-brothers for a few months and, like in Clueless (“You divorce wives, not children”), they’d stayed in touch enough that Fitz’s mother asked Ari to watch out for Fitz while she was in Europe.
Fitz and Ari’s prior relationship was confusing. I couldn’t figure it out completely because the timing didn’t seem to work out. Ari had a thing for Fitz, but hadn’t really talked with him since Fitz was in eighth grade, but had been to all his concerts and performances, but Fitz didn’t know that. Fitz has a bad case of hero-worship for Ari because Ari is perfect and wonderful and older and everything he touches turns to gold (but when did they see each other?). They have to find their way to each other and watching them do it — haltingly, through the interference of Garrett and the ghosts — IS very sweet.
The ghosts are…fascinating. It was very different for me to tell the difference between them. I eventually figured it out, but they’re so much a unit, a couple, that separating their personalities when they had no emotional arc, no relationship tension, no narrative reason for being except that ghosts are cool and they were there to help Fitz figure life out, there was little reason to separate them. It’s wonderful to see a happy couple in a romance, together for ever — literally — and their story is touching. But the narrative itself has to get pretty ridiculous (drug money, kidnapping, and extortion) in order to give Serge and Julian a point for being IN the story and that was almost a shame. It would have been nice to see Fitz and Ari figure things out without needing the threat of death to get there.
So, things were confusing in the beginning and unnecessary at the end. But watching Fitz figure out what he needs and watching Ari figure out how much he wants Fitz is fun. And watching both of them fall in love because they’re perfect for each other but still be able to contemplate sex and relationships with other men was realistic and much appreciated (be warned, readers: there’s almost more sex between Fitz and Garrett than there is between Fitz and Ari. Almost).
But I love your voice and I always have. You’re able to make the characters real and I appreciate that more than anything else. In this excerpt Fitz is trying to get Ari to pay attention to him. He goes to the restaurant where Ari is celebrating a case win with two lawyer colleagues, one gay, one straight (although, really, chosing “Alex” as the name for a minor character when “Ari” is one of your heroes seems a little…odd):
“Are you kidding?” They watched as Fitz shot his second drink. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and relaxed visibly in his chair. He raked his hair out of his eyes, and Ari could almost feel its texture, how soft it would be beneath his fingers. The waiter approached Fitz, and the little monster had the nerve to shoot him a radiant smile. The waiter soaked it up like sunshine, damn him, taking a minute to chat Fitz up before moving on. Fitz very visibly checked out the man‘s ass as he left.
“Shit, Ari.” Caleb aimed a frustrated kick to Ari‘s ankle. “What more do you need?”
“Stop it, Caleb,” said Alex.
“What is wrong with you, Alex? I don‘t need another conscience.”
“You do if you don‘t have one of your own.”
Fitz shot his third tequila. Ari wanted to kill him. At least he wouldn‘t be driving. As soon as he got Fitz alone, Ari was going to raid his wallet and rid him of whatever fake ID he was using. This is how you get yourself into trouble, Flitz.
“Oh fuck me, is he coming this way?”
Ari looked up just in time to see Fitz walking toward their table. Ari braced himself.
Fitz glanced Ari‘s way and did a double take. “Hey. I know you. Weren‘t you in that boy band a billion years ago? What was it…? Gonad?”
“N0mad,” Ari ground out. “It was N0mad.”
Fitz nodded. “Right. With a zero instead of an o.”
Caleb never took his eyes off Fitz. “How hilarious. I‘m afraid I won‘t be responsible if that gets back to the office, Ari.”
“Sorry, man.” Fitz shrugged. Dark brown eyes twinkled when they met Ari‘s and oh holy hell. Fitz was looking for trouble in the worst way. He said, “You weren‘t the cute one back then, but you grew up hot.”
Then Fitz looked straight at Ari while he leaned over to cup Caleb‘s cheek—right there in the middle of the restaurant—and kissed him, hard. Caleb responded with enthusiasm, deploying hands and a pretty inquisitive tongue. Ari could tell it had gone further than either of them intended when Fitz pulled back, flushed and loopy looking. His eyelids hung at a sexy half-mast, and he smiled like a debauched angel. It had only lasted a bare few seconds, but Fitz had every eye in the place on him.
Ari snorted. Caleb wouldn‘t have pushed Fitz away. No red-blooded gay man would push Fitz away. But he could have at least put up a token struggle. As it was, he sat there with a stupid expression on his face long after Fitz backed off and sauntered past their table.
“You fucking hound dog.” Alex watched Fitz go.
Caleb smirked. “Tell me you wouldn‘t hit that.”
“I would not hit that,” Alex said amiably.
I *love* that Fitz and Caleb both enjoy the kiss so much, even though Fitz is only doing it to piss off Ari. I love that while one person can be a better fit with someone, that doesn’t mean that you don’t find other people attractive. Overall, I enjoyed Ari and Fitz and, when I finally separated them, Serge and Julian. But the narrative need for the paranormal elements seemed slim and the prior relationship between Fitz and Ari seemed underdeveloped. I couldn’t put it down, admittedly, but in retrospect, the holes and confusion almost outweigh my enjoyment in the text.
Although, $7.99 for 185 pages in only one format?! Really?! What are you thinking, Loose Id?