Milo is a veteran who received a spinal cord injury in the Iraq war. Honor is the physical therapist called in to help him recover what function he can. Together they experience a reliving of past people's lives, which in turn influence their own.
Milo is a noncompliant, withdrawn young man who doesn't want anything. When Honor is brought in, at first he refuses to have her treat him. She is able to convince him to lie down on his stomach and she starts massaging his shoulders. Soon they are both experiencing the lives of Joe, Pearl, and Vivian. It is 1936. Joe is returning home after many months away playing swing to earn money for his college education. Pearl, his wife, meets him at the dock. She brings her cousin, Vivian. The three people's lives change from that moment on.
The memories that come forth during these sessions are scattered not only in their story, but also intertwine with other stories from different time periods. Most are after 1936, but one story line goes back to the 1600's. The images come in small pieces, leaving Milo and Honor wondering. Joe begins to accept Honor more easily. If nothing else, he wants to know the ends of the stories. Also, he is beginning to accept her as a person and can't shut himself off the way he had before she arrived.
Throughout American Music are intertwined the images of American modern music. There is also the image of cymbals and how they are integral to the 20th century music. Neither Joe nor Honor are musicians or particularly music fans. Yet most of the stories they see during their sessions are involved with music or art.
Jane Mendelsohn's tale is hard to follow at times, especially when she jumps to disconnected stories in different times. Yet American Music keeps the reader's interest enough to want to find out how the stories are connected to Honor and Milo. There is love and scandal. There is tragedy and joy. There is marriage and divorce. There are families doing the best they can.
As the stories come together, the reader's interest is kept better. Although the characters never come off the page, the reader still gets caught up. Mendelsohn's twist of how Milo and Honor keep seeing these visions is interesting. They learn that if Honor touches and massages different parts of Milo's body, different stories will appear. Then returning to that spot on the shoulder or neck or side will resume the story that had been started earlier.
American Music is a complicated read, making the reader think it through. But the reader is rewarded by the end.
These reviews are personal opinions only and in no way reflect other readers' opinions of the books discussed.
Book Rating System