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A review of Of Song and Water from Matthew Tiffany of Condalmo – A Lit Blog


I’m currently reading Of Song and Water by Joseph Coulson (Archipelago Books) for a review. It’s a nice shift for me — I’d read a few of the magical realism-type books in a row, and being completely enamored with that type of story, a break is a good idea, lest I burn myself out. About halfway through it now, and decidedly not magical realism. I get the feeling reading this that I do when I read Tobias Wolff — that building feeling of excitement, reading prose so deceptively simple and straightforward that packs such a punch. As we’re currently going over name possiblities for baby #2, I liked this line:

His grandfather used to say that a great name guarantees success. “It shouldn’t be a placeholder,” he insisted, “or a catchall for loose ends. It shouldn’t be given lightly, whether to a boy, a boat, or a business, not when dreams, even fate, hang in the balance.”

On playing jazz guitar in a trio:

Coleman showed a gift for melody, stating a theme but then leaving it, traveling sad and complex distances until he reached an isolated world, a strange land where virtuosity mattered far more than being part of any group or scene. At that point, having used up most of what he knew, he’d return in unexpected ways, playing familiar strains that seemed part of some deep and reawakened memory. Brian laid down the bottom with a steady poise, but when he took the lead, bursting out with his smile and his exuberant assurance, the music changed direction, moving into a realm that felt like church, as if a divine revelation were close at hand. He was also, along with Tom, an arbiter of dynamics, building the moment to a crescendo or reducing it to near silence. Tom kept all this together, marking time, using the brushes like a magician, reigning the guitar or bass when he thought either had gone too far.


I’ll post other excerpts as time allows before I finish the review. Lots of pages dog-eared in this one. I like Coulson’s understated style, making everything seem like the passing of a quiet day in the life of a somewhat elderly gentleman — which parts of the book are, and other parts are more dynamic times, but still being seen through that older man lens. I’m enjoying it.

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