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Every heart sings a song - ‘Perfect Tunes’

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There are a million stories out there of people who went out into the world and took a shot with their talent. For all but a handful, that shot misses, leading them down a different path. Is there anything wrong with their allowing themselves to go in a different direction?

Emily Gould’s “Perfect Tunes” (Avid Press, $26) is one of those stories, a tale of a woman who makes her way to New York City at the very beginning of the 21st century, determined to make a name for herself. But her rapidly ascending star goes out too quickly, sending her life down a road of struggle, though she’s never quite fully removed from the possibility of what could have been.

It’s an exploration of what it means to just miss being a star and of the passion and motivation behind creation. It’s also a story of mothers and daughters (and parenthood in general) and of the consequences of compromises. It is also a wry and irreverent look at being an artist and how elusive popular creative success really is.

Laura thinks she has what it takes to be a musician. She packs up her life and moves from Columbus, Ohio to New York City at the beginning of the millennium. She lives in a crummy apartment with her childhood friend Callie, waits tables at a cocktail bar and dreams of making it as a singer-songwriter.

One night, Callie brings Laura with her to see a show by a band called The Clips … and the rest of Laura’s life begins. She falls for the talented, troubled guitarist and begins a torrid and too-short romance, one that ends tragically. In the aftermath, Laura learns she is pregnant, a reality that undercuts her musical dream.

From there, we grow up right alongside Laura and her daughter. As Laura’s path shifts, from the starry-eyed wannabe musician to the hardscrabble single mom to the blended family parent to teenagers, she’s forced to confront the compromises that she has made along the way – especially when her daughter starts to ask hard questions about her father and begins to make some of the same mistakes.

Swapping potential stardom for stability isn’t the most romantic choice one could make, but nor is it a poor one. There is no judgment of Laura’s decisions here, but even as she strives to be the best mother she can be, her connection to the muse remains; throughout the years, Euterpe is by her side always. Whether she fully uses that connection, well – that’s a different story.

“Perfect Tunes” is a breezy read that is somewhat deceptive; it’s not nearly as simple as it seems. Sure, the narrative is a relatively straightforward one, and you could easily consume and enjoy the book solely on that level – a totally worthwhile literary experience.

However, there’s more to the story if you want to see it.

This is a book about what it means to dream, yes, but also about what it means to walk away from that dream. To sacrifice that all-encompassing grab for the brass ring in exchange for the love and responsibility that comes with family. It is about what happens to a dream deferred.

At its heart, “Perfect Tunes” is about love. Romantic love, both the white-hot heat of youthful passion and the soft comfort of domestic partnership. It’s about familial love as well – specifically, the love that mothers bear for their children. It’s about the love of creation, the unquenchable desire to make art, to say something with your talent.

And it’s about what happens when those loves are taken from you.

Emily Gould is a snappy storyteller with an ear for engaging dialogue. She also has a clear affinity for the spheres in which her story circulates, whether in terms of subject matter (music and those who make it) or physical setting – Gould’s New York City is vibrant and messy, practically a character in its own right. Drop a smart and self-aware protagonist like Laura in the midst of it all and you’ve got all the ingredients for success.

“Perfect Tunes” is thoughtful and funny, packed with ideas and observations that are quirky in a way that is accessible and engaging. The story it tells is extremely specific while never being exclusive, capturing a universality of experience – we’ve all had dreams, and we’ve all moved on from dreams. And in Gould’s eyes, that moving on process might be difficult, but often presents rewards of its own.

Last modified on Thursday, 16 April 2020 11:16

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