Small Masterpieces

Music for Wartime: Stories, by Rebecca Makkai, (Viking), 240 pages, released 23 June, 2015

Rebecca Makkai won praise last year for her novel The Hundred-Year House, but she’s perhaps best known as a writer of short stories—and she’s just had a new collection of stories, Music for Wartime, released in June. I enjoyed House, but I like the stories even better.

Makkai creates unusual characters in moments of crisis—with some of these crises more significant than others. War is ever-present, sometimes literally, sometimes metaphorically. She gives us three music students killed during World War II, a musicologist attempting to document the songs of a culture being annihilated,  a political prisoner who takes on another man’s life, a miniature Johann Sebastian Bach who materializes in a present-day highrise apartment.

Makkai’s writing is peppered with little gems of sentences. “To claim one ancestor would be to claim them all, even the ones on the wrong sides of those decisive moral battles of history.” “If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the movies about caring for transplanted historical people, it’s never to take them out in public.” “The glorious present tense—that blindest of tenses, ignoring all context, all past and future failures.” “After forty, you look how you deserve to.”

If you’re looking for short fiction that will surprise you, provoke you, and place you firmly within worlds you’d never have imagined on you own, you’ll appreciate Music for Wartime.

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