It’s time for Literary Wives, a blogging club that looks at the depiction of wives in fiction!
As always, if you haven’t already please make sure to check out the posts by the other wives and join in the discussion if you’ve read Every Note Played by Lisa Genova! There are definitely spoilers ahead.
Richard is a concert pianist and when he starts having some issues with his hands, he writes it off as tendonitis. But several months later, he has a diagnosis of ALS, he’s played his last concert and has care aides coming into his home three times a day to look after him. Recently divorced, Richard’s relationship with his ex-wife Karina and daughter Grace is almost non-existent. But when Karina hears about Richard’s diagnosis she starts thinking about their relationship and how they got here, what they should do to try and make things as right as they can before his inevitable death. After selling his apartment, Richard moves back into the home he shared with Karina and she cares for him as his ALS takes more from him every day.
I didn’t know what this book was about at all until I started reading it. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while (when I remember to come here and post) you might know that I do not like reading books about serious illness like this. It freaks me out, like I’m inviting it into my own life. So I really had to dig deep to stick with this one. Lisa Genova writes incredibly knowledgeable about the physical breakdown of a body with ALS and it was at once incredibly informative and completely horrifying and devastating.
In the beginning, I wondered how I was going to feel about this book because it was hard to like Richard and Karina. There was anger and disappointment on one side, ego and disinterest on the other. But I thought Genova did a great job at giving each character room for growth, a bit of a redemption arc if you will. I thought it was a layered, nuanced portrayal of not only marriage but the relationships people have with their parents and as parents.
By the time the book ended, I was in tears. Richard and Karina are able to forgive each other and say the things that they needed to say. Every Note Played really shows the power of “I’m sorry.”
What does the book say about being a wife?
Richard and Karina seemed to have a very traditional marriage, even while each of them were struggling within the bounds of marriage. Richard followed his dreams of becoming a concert pianist and Karina, who had herself been a promising pianist, stayed home with Grace. Richard, who had left New York City for an opportunity in Boston, knowing the effect it would have on Karina’s chances of being a jazz pianist, found himself disappointed in their marriage and looked for connection with other women. Karina, resentful of the choice to move to Boston threw herself into Grace but ensured that they wouldn’t have additional children, something Richard came to find out years later.
Richard has never been able to put anyone or anything before his love for the piano, a choice that came to define Karina and Richard’s marriage.
“To everyone’s disappointment, he’s never been able to love a woman the way he loves piano. Not even Karina.”
“She didn’t realize this at the time, how one-sided the move would be when she agreed to it. She’s often wondered how much Richard understood before they packed up and left. Not being from this country, she simply assumed Boston would have a significant jazz culture. Surely, she would find other hip clubs, other talented artists, other opportunities for expression and hire. […] There is no jazz scene in Boston.”
The longer Karina goes without playing professionally, the more she finds excuses for not following her passion; Richard’s schedule is so hectic, Grace needs Karina around. But then she’s divorced and Grace has gone to college and Karina is still spending her days teaching piano to kids who don’t really want to play. She realizes that she’s used being a wife as a crutch, she’s always been afraid to go for her dream.
“With stunning clarity, she suddenly sees he role she’s been playing, the costume and mask she chose and has been wearing for twenty years. She’s been hiding, an imposter, unable to give herself permission to do this, to play jazz, to be who she is, shackled inside a prison of blame and excuses.”
In a final twist, it is Richard, the one who took her off her path, who brought her to Boston knowing the impact it would have on her career, who shows her that she is meant to play jazz, that she should finally follow that dream.
Every Note Played is about the choices we make, the paths not taken and how the person you choose to share your life with has an impact on your life, sometimes even when you’re no longer together.
Be sure to visit the other blogs and get in on the discussion! And come back in June when we’ll discuss Monogamy by Sue Miller.