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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 352 pages, $25 (released 5/2014)

The ARCs are stacking up, the library holds are shortly to be mine, there are unread books cascading onto the floor from my many bookcases, but when Carolyn told me about “Bellweather Rhapsody,” I put every other book aside. In many ways, this is a perfect book.

In an old hotel in the Catskills that Kate Racculia reminiscently patterns after the one in “The Shining,” seventeen-year-old twin musicians, their heavily burdened chaperone, a slightly crazy conductor, a heavyset young woman who has come to face her deepest fear, the sociopathic interim head of a high school music festival, the sociopath’s fourteen-year-old prodigy daughter, and a cast of mostly faceless hundreds converge for the yearly student music conference and festival for the best young musicians in New York state.

In 1982, fifteen years before the main events in the book, a young bride shot her husband and hanged herself in Room 712. A ten-year-old girl witnessed the event. Now strange events once again haunt Room 712.

Alice and Rabbit (Bertram) Hatmaker are the twins. Alice is outgoing and self-absorbed; Rabbit is anguished and shy. Alice sings and Rabbit plays the bassoon. Alice is placed in Room 712. Her roommate is Jill, the daughter of the sociopath.

On the first night, Jill gets drunk and goes a little nuts. Alice leaves the room briefly to find paper towels to sop up the spilled wine. When she returns, she finds her roommate hanging from a pipe in the ceiling. Alice does not know about the prior hanging, but some of the people she tells do remember. Hastings, the hotel’s concierge, is one of those people, and he hurries up to the room to help out. But, lo, there is no body. No Jill, no sign of foul play. Alice, a little melodramatic anyway, now periodically lapses into hysterical fits. Not even her twin, the loyal and steadfast Rabbit, believes her story.

In the meantime, the adults have their own little melodramas to deal with. Natalie, the chaperone, was once the disheartened student of Viola, the sociopath. Natalie has brought her gun with her, but not because of Viola, whom she did not expect to see. Viola and Fisher, the eccentric/crazy conductor, have a history of lust and dislike, as opposed to love and hate. The heavyset young woman who checked into the hotel, oblivious of the festival, has come to put some ghosts to rest.

Each student and adult has an issue. Each — except for the sociopath — hopes for a revelation and resolution. Each, whether they know it or not, works hard to break the curse of the Bellweather Hotel. Racculia creates a symphony with her novel. The characters play together, first in one group, then in another. They twine in little groups and in large ones. They play together in harmony and in dissonance. They play solos. Their storylines run contrapuntally.

Throughout the telling of the mysterious events played out over the course of one November weekend, there is never a graphically scary moment. Instead there is a build-up of little stories, little scenes into a larger story, a merging of moments and purposes, until a true revelatory crescendo is reached in the best mystery story fashion. Racculia puts forth a potentially horrible scenario, then pulls the story back to safety. She tiptoes into significant moments with a delicate hand, which makes the blam! moment very satisfying. Racculia has rejiggered the horror motif to her own artful end.

Here it is, just the 13th of January, and already here is my third MBTB star of the year. What is going on?

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