Accordion Crimes is quite a unique book, in the sense that it’s made up of absolutely loads of different stories centring around different characters. I did find that all of the characters merged into each other or were completely forgotten by the time I’d reached the end though, and afterwards it was hard to remember much about the book except that it was charming, and there was an accordion.
It begins with an accordion maker in the nineteenth century, and ends in the 1990s. Throughout this time the accordion falls into the hands of many, many different characters, and we read their stories for as long as they have the accordion. Once the accordion is out of their possession, the narrative moves on to the new owners. There’s a brief summary of the rest of a character’s life post-accordion, usually detailing the way they died (almost gleefully, I feel), but the book is essentially a series of snapshots of the lives of different characters, with the accordion linking everything together.
I know I’m not making this out to be the most thrilling of reads, and in many ways it wasn’t, yet at the same time I always wanted to pick it up and carry on reading. There’s such an enormous array of characters and storylines, all of which are completely forgettable or interchangeable in my mind. I can’t remember any character names; I know there was one who committed suicide in quite an unusually gruesome way, and another who was bitten by a venomous spider, but other than that there’s nothing that stands out in my memory. I couldn’t necessarily tell you which story those snippets belonged to either, but it doesn’t matter in the slightest. It’s not a book that’s about individual characters really, it tends to give a more general sense of place and time. I’m not explaining this very well at all, but I’m not sure how to make it clearer. Basically, the accordion is the key to tying together all the different time periods and locations, although it doesn’t always feature in the forefront of each character’s story. In some it’s firmly in the background, almost forgotten about, but we still only hear about a character for as long as the accordion is in their possession.
I think part of the reason why this book was so readable is the writing itself. I’ve read a few other novels and short stories by (E.) Annie Proulx, and her writing’s quite unique. Like me, she suffers greatly from the use of overly long sentences, but it seems to fit well with her very direct writing, in the sense that she tells it like it is in pretty blunt terms. Compared with The Shipping News and Postcards, I’d say Accordion Crimes is probably my favourite novel by Proulx, and I think that’s probably because there’s so much going on and it’s constantly changing. If you don’t like a character or plot, it doesn’t matter because the narrative moves on. If you’re struggling to visualise a particular location, it doesn’t matter because the narrative moves on. There’s so much variety that it doesn’t have a chance to become dull, or overdone. The downside is the fact that it’s so hard to remember the individual characters and stories, but if there’s one memorable thing I’ve taken away from this book it’s the fact that one object can be used to tie together great swathes of time and people, and actually it’s a really effective way of telling not just one story, but loads of different ones, all of which benefit from being a small part of a bigger whole.
Again, I’m struggling to explain this well (probably because it’s past my bedtime) but all I will say is that I think it’s a really interesting concept to keep an object as the constant factor while everything around it changes, and it’s a concept that I was really intrigued to try for myself in some of my creative writing coursework. I was nowhere near as ambitious as Proulx, my story only spanned a couple of decades and kept the same two characters throughout, but with a constant object (a car) providing the link to the earlier days. I found it really interesting to write though, and I thought a lot about how Proulx had used this method to great effect.
Annie Proulx won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. I know some find her work a bit tedious and frustrating, probably due to the long sentence structure, but if her writing style is the kind you can enjoy I would definitely recommend giving Accordion Crimes a go. I think it’s really unique, and more readable than some of her other works. Plus it feels like you could be reading loads of different books instead of just one (in a positive way, not a disjointed way), in which case it’s like one of those ‘Buy One, Get Seven Free!’ type supermarket bargains, which few can resist.
See previous Book Review, featuring Roald Dahl’s Someone Like You.