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July 22, 2011 / Leslie

Review: The Upright Piano Player

Upright Piano PlayerThe Upright Piano Player
by David Abbott

Genre: Literature, Psychological Thriller
Publisher: Doubleday / Nan A. Talese
Publish Date: June 7, 2011
Format: Hardcover | 272 pages
Rating: 5 of 5

The Upright Piano Player begins at the end of the story on a sorrowful note at the funeral of Henry’s young grandson, Hal. We learn the heart wrenching details in those first few pages of what happened to Hal and how Henry feels responsible. Then we jump back in time four and a half years to find that Henry, a once successful businessman, is being forced out of the firm he founded. At his retirement party he pretends everything is alright, but Henry’s orderly life soon begins to become unraveled.

Unable to forgive his wife a brief infidelity and now estranged from his son, Henry lives alone in his large home with help from a loyal housekeeper. Convinced that he needs to get out more Henry attends a New Year’s Eve party only to become the victim of a random act of violence that leads to a succession of harassing incidents. Soon he finds out his ex-wife, Nessa, is very ill and Henry begins agonizing over his past mistakes. He must decide whether to contact Nessa and his son, who now has a child he didn’t even know about, and time is running out. Meanwhile the harassment by the mysterious stalker is escalating.

Henry is not a particularly exciting man and this is not always a happy story, but in many ways it is very compelling. Indeed, he is a very flawed character. Much of Henry’s unhappiness is caused by his own decisions and inability to forgive, to move on, to avoid more mistakes.

The book is an easy read but not a book to read quickly. I read slowly as the layers of Henry’s life were peeled away and we learned what brought him to the events of the tragic first pages. It is beautifully written, the prose is clear and graceful, the story is heartbreaking.

Henry occasionally plays jazz piano but it wasn’t until almost the end of the story that I grasped the significance of the title, The Upright Piano Player. Bill Evans’ song “Waltz for Debby” is mentioned as playing in the background several times. I love jazz piano and this piece really sets the mood for the book, at times both melancholy and happy.

I’m not always a fan of starting a novel with the ending and I wasn’t sure it was the right way to start this book when I first began reading. However, why the author choose to do this soon becomes apparent. As Henry begins to reconcile with his family and enjoys a loving relationship with his grandson, the opening becomes all the more tragic. I went back and read the first chapter after I finished the book. It had an entirely different effect on me with the second reading.

I highly recommend this debut novel by David Abbott and hope to be seeing more from him in the future. This is definitely one of my top ten books of the year.

Two Copies to Giveaway

Thanks to Doubleday Books, I have two copies of The Upright Piano Player to give away to my readers. Fill out this form for a chance to win a copy. Enter through Sunday, July 24th, US addresses only. I will draw the winners using when I turn on my computer Monday morning.

Review copy provided by Doubleday Books.


Leave a Comment
  1. Diane@BibliophileBytheSea / Jul 22 2011 5:24 am

    Oh this does sound good (I have a copy). I enjoyed your review Leslie.


  2. Mary / Jul 22 2011 8:02 am

    I think it sounds really good. Great review, by the way. Going to fill out the form.


  3. BermudaOnion / Jul 22 2011 11:34 am

    I’ve seen this book around, but I think this is the first review I’ve read. You’ve made it sound amazing!



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