Book Review: Every Note Played

Maybe human beings are capable of only so much passion.

Every Note Played, Lisa Genova

Gah, July has just FLOWN by. It is normally my favorite month (because it’s my birthday month, and I milk that for all it is worth), but I feel like my days are just zipping past. Half the time I reach the end of the week and can’t even remember how I spent it. I have read a few books this month, but haven’t (unfortunately) taken the time to post about them on either my Bookstagram account or here. I woke up this morning determined to remedy that issue today.

Story Background

Last night I finished Every Note Played by Lisa Genova. This was not my first exposure to Genova’s works. I read Still Alice in high school, and it totally rocked my world. I was just stunned. Now, I will admit that I partially thought it was nonfiction, but even when I realized it was a fictional narrative I was transfixed. This story has many similarities to that novel– they are both beautifully written, thoughtful, and a little, um, morbid. Morbid in a beautiful way (if that can be allowed? I’m not 100% sure that I’m correctly phrasing that, but it’ll do for now).

In this novel, Richard, a professional concert pianist, develops ALS. He has no close family to care for him, so his ex-wife, Karina, takes on the role. Richard has an incredibly fraught relationship with both Karina and their college-age daughter, Grace. We get to see the unfolding story from two perspectives: Karina’s and Richard’s. What I found particularly interesting in this novel was the motif of paralysis. Richard finds himself very literally paralyzed as the novel progresses; in addition to that, his illness makes him unable to speak freely. His internal dialogue has enormous regret, but he struggles to verbalize those apologies to his wife and daughter.

“He’s plagued with regret and the inability to articulate the apology he wants to give her because of the sweeping scope of it, because his voice production is so damn slow and there are too many and not enough words, because he’s entirely unpracticed with this kind of conversation.”

(Lots of English-y terms up there, but basically: this book is beautiful.)

While love isn’t maybe the best word for my feelings in relation to this book, I can say overall that it totally wrecked me emotionally. Not only is the writing beautiful, but the story itself is so poetic that I found myself reading purely to feel the satisfaction of inevitable reconciliation, regardless of how sad that ending might make me.

I borrowed this book from my local library, which meant I didn’t get to annotate it the way I traditionally do. BUT, I did get to use some fun sticky tabs!

I don’t want to spoil anything, so I will try to keep the discussion of the novel’s plot very brief. It begins with the realization of Richard’s diagnosis from Karina’s perspectives and alternates perspectives from that point. More than just the narrative of a fatal illness, it also describes the failure of a marriage and the miraculous forgiveness (from both parties) that results from tragedy. It describes true love, a love that exists for the main characters not for one another but for music and their child. The way that Genova writes about music is breathtaking. It is an experience to read her descriptions, and I was enamored with the beauty of her quiet prose.

Star Review

Drum roll, please.






Okay, here’s the deal. I didn’t love this book, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t really enjoy it. Unlike Backman (a writer I think literally everyone can find a reason to enjoy), I don’t know that this book opens itself up to the same audience. So, my recommendations for Every Note Played are a bit more brief.

If you are someone who:

  • Doesn’t mind a tragic ending
  • Has little to no knowledge of ALS, but want to learn more about the disease without reading a ton of clinical literature
  • Enjoy reading or discussing classical music
  • Know your way around a piano
  • Have a taste for family drama
  • Enjoy a quiet novel
  • Appreciate a true depiction of a bad marriage.

then this book might be for you! I won’t make any promises. However, it’s small, and I think it could be worth your time.

Until next time, happy reading!

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