Book Review: Singing Lessons for the Stylish Canary
Reviewed by Erica Ball
A playful and loving take on authenticity and pursuing your own path to happiness
Singing Lessons for the Stylish Canary is the slightly-fantastical story of Henri Blanchard, his family, his life, and his grand adventure to the United States of America in the 19th century.
Born to a family of master craftsmen and the certainty of inheriting the family business, Henri’s personality and proclivities don’t properly fit the expectations placed on him as his father’s firstborn son. Mysteries come to light when Henri finds his father’s stash of secret letters, written by a woman in New York who seems to be more than his father’s best customer, and who, it appears, has borne his true firstborn son. What follows is an epic journey, both figuratively and literally, as Henri’s adventures lead him to a new life in the new world.
This story explores the forces that can shape a person’s future, among them parentage, history, happenstance, and personality, which is most important in this case. Personalities loom large in this story and are its driving force. The characters are defined by their actions and reactions, their deeds rather than their words.
This is most evident in Henri, as his personality from birth is what determines his reactions to his life, parents, friends, acquaintances, and strangers. It also greatly affects the way others react to him. This is a family trait; we see the true Georges through his actions, as we do with Henri’s grandmother Cérine and her small acts of rebellion.
From the first pages to the last period, the author’s spirited storytelling style lifts the prose above the actual action to a place where the reader can smile at the foibles of human life and behavior. This means that though unfortunate things happen to these likable characters, the reader can take the broader view of these circumstances.
Even the worst parts of human nature are treated with a light hand, and the reader can feel that each character is basically good. The result is a cast of characters as colorful as the titular canaries that appear at pivotal moments of Henri’s story. These original characters are often unpredictable, and climactic scenes unfold quite differently than you’d expect.
Another strength is the originality of the writing. Simple scenes evoke strong emotions, such as a quiet moment between a mother and her colicky baby. There is a plethora of unexpected analogies that reframe ordinary experiences, often into the language of music. At times, the analogies flow so quickly that some readers may feel they are slightly overused. Others, though, will delight in the joy and humor found in much of the imagery. All this creates a story full of powerful images of the good life: singing, dancing, nature, and belonging. As such, it is a highly recommended read for lovers of family fiction, those that lean toward magical realism, artist groups, and as discussion for book clubs.
In all, Singing Lessons for the Stylish Canary is a place of music, birdsong, and beauty; a wonderful world in which to rest awhile. It is a look at how the destruction of certainty can make space for growth, and the peace that can be found in allowing ourselves to just be ourselves.
Publisher: Lanternfish Press
Genre: Literary Fiction / Historical / Magical Realism
Print Length: 352 pages
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