You may or may not have noticed I didn't have a blog post on Monday. I am currently far from home for the holidays and have not had ready access to a computer. I tell you this because it is the reason I am reviewing this work in particular. I have a list--somewhere--of potential future works to be reviewed, and when I can't find it I can always peruse either of my loaded bookshelves, but here I find myself limited to what I have on hand, and this has turned out to be quite the blessing...for you! *winky face* I say this because I would probably never have thought to review this short story otherwise, and that would have been a shame.
First, a word about Orson Scott Card. You are probably at least familiar with his most famous book "Ender's Game". He has had a long and varied career as an author, writing mostly (but not exclusively) science fiction novels. When a young reader is first introduced to Card (usually through the "Ender" series or his excellent sci-fi/religious "Homecoming" novels) he or she is typically floored. The reader has never read anything like it, and yearns for more. Unfortunately, not all Card novels are created equal. He has admitted that he has, at times, written a book simply because that is his job and he needs to make money. Now, I'm not trying to say he should not do this--obviously that is his choice--but it has produced a few hollow, disappointing novels I would never recommend to anyone ("Homebody" being the quintessential example of this).
I have long believed that his finest medium is not the one for which he is best known. He excels in the short story. He is a master of it. And one in particular he refers to as, "The most powerful thing I have ever written." If you have not read it, it's time you did.
If you read the title of this entry you know I am referring to "Unaccompanied Sonata." This is indeed short, clocking in at twenty-three pages (if you are reading it in the small-paged paperback form), yet the story it tells is in no way small. I have read it twice, the last time probably more than seven years ago, and yet as I was thumbing through it this morning I was shocked by how much of it I remembered. I knew the premise, the main character's name, his nick-name later on, each important event and side-character, and the ending. In short: I remembered everything. This is a testament to this work, it proves that after reading it I thought through the story over and over.
Strictly speaking it is a science fiction story, but like the best sci-fi, it reads like literature, pandering to emotion and relatability rather than high-headed conceptualism. On the first couple of pages you will learn that at a very young age our hero, Christian Haroldsen, has been tested by the government and has been found to be a musical prodigy. He is removed from his parents, taken to an isolated house in the woods, given an instrument that can produce any sound he can think of, and allowed to make music. This is all he does. He is not allowed to hear any other musician's work, nor is he allowed to meet the people who listen to his music. From there on things get interesting. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of this work is it's tone. It's clear that Card feels strongly about the story's moral, but the tone itself never reveals this. Everything is told clearly, cleanly, and surgically.
By the time you finish you may find yourself sitting quietly, staring at a wall.
Note: This story was originally published in Omni Magazine in 1979, it can now be found in a number of collections of Card's short stories; I recommend "Maps in the Mirror", as it is the most complete of these collections.