Title ~ Summer Symphony
Author ~ Brandon Shire
Publisher ~ TPG Books
Published ~ 1st October 2014
Genre ~ Contemporary M/M Romance
Martin Zoric had vivid dreams of fatherhood, of a small hand pressed to his, of pink dresses and girlish laughter. Then his wife had a stillbirth and his world fell apart.
He listened to the unwanted apologies, stood by his wife as was expected of him, and kept his façade strong and firm for the entire world to see.
But does he have the strength to let go and really grieve?
When Ren Wakahisa landed in Croatia he was hoping to escape the cultural pressures put on him to conform. His family wanted him to forsake love for duty. They viewed his happiness as secondary to familial prosperity.
Does he have the courage to be who he wants to be? Or, will he yield to their wishes?
Summer Symphony is the story of how two men find their answers and what they learn about strength, and grace, and the endurance of love.
This is a rare thing for me – I never review books long after their release dates. It just seems to me that if I write a review more than a year later, the book has probably already been reviewed many times, leaving me little of consequence to add to the record. In many ways, my own review strikes me as yesterday’s news.
This book, “Summer Symphony” was published more than a year ago, and got excellent reviews from its readers, at the time. So why am I spinning my wheels this late in the game? Because “Summer Symphony” is simply one of the best books I’ve ever read. It is a passionate book, a masterwork by a great author, Brandon Shire. I had been drawn to it when I recently wrote a more timely review, for the “Sinfully” blog, of his opus, “The Love of Wicked Men”. I loved the book (a compendium of “episodes” released online). I also wondered why I hadn’t run across this talented author before. In fact, I had. I’d read, not too long ago, “The Value of Rain”, another book I’d loved. For some reason, I didn’t connect it to this talented author. I should have. When I browsed through his other work, I found “Summer Symphony”. As a devoted fan of gay music fiction, I couldn’t resist downloading it.
I am so glad I did. It just blew me away. I’m writing this review because I felt I had to.
It’s a book about two respected musicians who come together, fortuitously, for a summer festival in Zagreb, Croatia. Martin is the Maestro of the Zagreb Symphony, a competent orchestra, but not one of great renown. Ren, a Japanese prodigy, is hired as a piano soloist for the full three months of summer, a series of concerts that culminates in a bravura performance to be televised internationally.
Martin is failing. In fact, he intends to resign the orchestra as soon as possible. He’s lost his music, his passion, his will to go on. He and his beloved wife lost the baby she had carried for five months. At the age of 47, his wife now over thirty-five, this was probably the last chance he had to raise and love a child of his own. He is in utter despair at the loss of their beautiful baby, Marta, dead in the womb.
As the book opens, his wife calmly announces that she’s leaving. She’s moving to Paris, today. She’s not abandoning him. He had already abandoned her to his full-time grief, the paralyzing pain that he can’t give voice to, the grief that leaves him without even the hope of a future.
Ren is jetting to Zagreb with his own baggage. This young, brilliantly talented, gay man is being tortured relentlessly, by his mother, to marry a woman and start a family. She is staunchly traditional and believes that if her son doesn’t marry immediately, the whole family will be disgraced for generations to come, and no one will ever marry his 13-year-old sister Emi. She already has, without his consent, engaged matchmakers. He took the contract in Zagreb to get away from his mother and her endless demands and drama, and to have time to figure out how he will finally convince her that he will never marry a woman, that he doesn’t want to, and that such a marriage would be nothing but a cruel lie.
Two men with unbearable family burdens come together at the worst time in both their lives.
In one of the most stunning pieces of writing about music I’ve ever read (and I’m a classically trained musician, myself, so I’ve read a lot of writing about music), unexpected magic explodes at their first performance together. Ren vents his despair, at the piano, before a sold-out concert hall, ignoring the interpretation the two men had worked on for weeks, the interpretation the orchestra learned through hour upon hour of grueling rehearsal. At that moment, Martin’s music comes back, spurred on by the passion and pain of the young virtuoso making music like a man possessed. He is so tuned in to Ren that he begins to anticipate him, inspiring the ensemble and leading the orchestra into an astonishing pas-de-deux with its soloist, all the musicians so in tune, so in sync, that it’s like a naked soul exploding into the air of the concert hall.
They only finish one movement before Ren is overcome with stress and exhaustion and begins to fall from the piano bench. The 47-year old Martin rushes from the stage, like a man possessed, and catches him before his head hits the floor.
The event goes viral. Even the most skeptical critics go insane over the remarkable performance, understanding that they have seen music made flesh, perhaps for the first time in their lives.
My words are a poor substitute for the brilliant writing of Mr. Shire. I tend to overuse such superlatives as “brilliant” for my favorite authors, but I must say that, this time, I may be understating the virtuosity of Mr. Shire’s talent. Reading “Summer Symphony”, I too saw the music made flesh, but in the words on the page. The rhythm of Mr. Shire’s prose rises and falls with the rhythm of the music. The dynamics grow and fade in words made bold, then soft, in subtle shadings of meaning and cadence.
The men are lovers, though Martin is almost twice Ren’s age. And they know that their relationship will not live past the end of summer. But in their music, in the incredible duet of inspiration and passion they unleash upon the listener, they become more than just lovers. In fact, they create music that becomes legend. They are each other’s muse, and the result is an explosion of creativity that changes the careers of both men, for many years to come.
I give Mr. Shire great credit for refusing to fall back on any and all gay fiction memes and conventions. There has, to my knowledge, never been a book about music as original and unexpected at this one. And I defy any reader to finish this book with a dry eye. “Summer Symphony” moved me profoundly. The author’s deep understanding of the nature of music, its effect on the human soul, and the liberation of creativity is unparalleled.
“Summer Symphony” is not any kind of traditional love story. The love between the men is almost irrelevant compared to their inspiring flight into the power and passion of great music, music they create, music for the ages.
Thank you, Mr. Shire, for this brilliant and passionate book. It will remain with me, forever.
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