Book Review: Music for Wartime by Rebecca Makkai
Today, we are thrilled to review the first short story collection from acclaimed author Rebecca Makkai. These stories tackle everything from reality dating shows to the repercussions of the death of an elephant, all in stunning prose. Laura Spence-Ash writes: “Makkai is fascinated by causality and connection, how things are inevitable, how every moment leads to the next.” This summer book is not to be missed.
Rebecca Makkai’s Music for Wartime is a masterful collection of short stories, the author’s intelligence and wit shining through in beautiful and insightful prose. Written over a period of twelve years, most of these stories have been published elsewhere, including four stories chosen for Best American Short Stories. Makkai is primarily interested in searching for meaning, creating connections and investigating causality. The stories consider and question their subjects from many different angles; the best stories in this collection leave those questions unanswered. These are the stories that ask to be read multiple times, stories that resonate and haunt.
Makkai has published two novels—The Borrower (her debut in 2011) and The Hundred-Year House (2014)—and a novelist’s sensibility infuses this collection. The stories are big in scope and consideration; each story thoroughly investigates a particular place and time. In “The November Story,” the narrator deals with the dissolution of a relationship while she works on a reality show that seeks to romantically link contestants; Makkai reads an abbreviated version of this story on NPR which can be accessed here. Toward the end of the story, the narrator discusses what will need to be done to make the landscape look, in September, as though it is November: “We’ll spray some of the remaining leaves yellow, some red. We’ll make everyone wear a coat. We’ll kill the grass with herbicide. It’s sick and it’s soulless, but it’s one of the addictive things about my job: Here, you can force the world to be something it’s not.” This tight and complicated link between artifice and reality is considered in almost every story. Many of the protagonists are artists, and we see them grapple with their art and how it reflects, mirrors or distorts the real world.