The Song Is You review

Song Is YouThe iPod plays such a prominent role in The Song Is You by Arthur Phillips that I kept mine on while I read (it’s on at the moment). Like the main character, Julian Donahue, I set it to shuffle, leaving the song selection up to the digital wheel of fate, allowing it to offer up songs to fit the moment. Picking a U2 song to fit this book was a cinch; the inevitable choice being “Angel of Harlem.”

Lady Day got diamond eyes
She sees the truth behind the lies

Billie Holiday, Irish singers in New York – the song is a lock. And it did come up on my shuffled songs. But no one song can sum up a book any more than a song can sum up a person. What about a complete playlist? Without direct access to Julian’s iPod and Cait O’Dwyer’s music, could I create a playlist to accompany my reading? Some of these songs came up on shuffle, some I sought out, and some were suggested to me (special thanks to Anesidora):

1. Angel of Harlem, U2
2. Raining Again, Staind
3. Sorrow, Flyleaf
4. The One I’m Waiting For, Relient k
5. Naked, Avril Lavigne
6. No Line on the Horizon, U2
7. Angel Standing By, Jewel
8. I Will Possess Your Heart, Death Cab for Cutie
9. Torn and Tattered, Joss Stone
10. Look Around, Blues Traveler
11. Promises, the Cranberries

To my ear and mind this list seems to be an excellent fit, but I would have to re-read the book while listening to it to be certain. Phillips writes rich prose that warrants slow savoring. I particularly enjoyed his hybrid words such as “moodicidal” and “divorcistan.” Originality is his strongest suit, and it is his character’s strongest longing.

Julian Donahue is a commercial director with a peculiar acuity for predicting the lifespan of a model’s beauty. This is an asset in his line of work, but a detriment in his personal life. Every interaction is analyzed down to the arc it will follow; if it is an arc Julian has already traversed, the beauty is lost to him. Already lost to him are his wife and son, but none of his interactions promise an original arc until he happens to hear Cait O’Dwyer sing. Her performance is not perfect, but he is able to project the arc of her career. He becomes her behind-the-scenes anonymous adviser and her music revives the dormant beauty in his life.

Julian strives for originality, and it is that originality that catches the attention of Cait, the star on the rise. They dance around one another, intriguing and inspiring in turn, but never touching. Near misses mount until each partner is beguiled to the breaking point.

Unfortunately the breaking point in their unconsummated intimacy is also the breaking point in the story. The ending of the book is as abrupt as the silence after a rock concert. That much is inevitable, but for an encore Phillips tacks on a disonant digression that detracts from the lyrical story he was telling. An unexpected twist in the arc, perhaps, but an unsatisfying one at that.

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