For a first novel, Lisa Tucker's The Song Reader is quite amazing -- lyrically written, funny and sad, eccentric and entertaining. It
crosses the border between literary writing and popular prose; it has
one foot in each camp for its wisdom and staying power. Although the
story is thoroughly original, it also explores the eternal theme of
coming of age.
What a wonderful premise. As the subtitle says, "Can the lyrics to a
song reveal the secrets of the heart?" How many of us have wondered
that as we subconsciously hum the songs we heard in the supermarket or
old Beatles' songs? What do people think of us based on our choice of
The story, set in the '80s in small-town Missouri (Tucker herself grew up in
Missouri), centers on two sisters. Mary Beth, twelve years older, is a"song
reader/life healer." She helps people with their love and family
relationships through listening to and interpreting the songs that
matter to them. She and her preadolescent sister, Leeann, live together
after their mother dies in a car accident. Toddler Tommy also lives with
them after Mary Beth receives him as "payment" for a successful song
reading session. Her boyfriend, Ben, also lives in their home for a
time, until Mary Beth throws him out.
The sisters' relationship is quirky and strong, but they do have one
point of departure: Leeann wants to track down their father, whom they
haven't seen for five years. Mary Beth is not interested. When they do
find him and he moves back into their home, the sisters discover his serious emotional problems.
The sisters, their neighbors and their friends are clearly and sympathetically
drawn. Tucker explores and expands the definition of family. As the story
progresses, difficulties and disappointments develop in regard to Mary
Beth's odd profession and her romantic relationships. The sisters
weather these setbacks admirably until one particular song reading seems
to go bad.
I wonder if this novel will spur a new field of psychotherapy. How many
people will be hanging out their "song reading" shingles? As Lisa
Tucker says in a press release: "...as far as I know, there aren't any
other song readers [besides Mary Beth, her character]-Yet. It is a very
real thing though, and there's even scientific research to support it.
So one of my goals in talking about the book is to inspire people to
think about becoming their own song reader: that is, song reading
This novel should most appeal to women (with or without sisters), those
who love and believe in the power of music, and teenage girls. The Song
Reader provides a fun and sometimes bittersweet ride. Tucker's second
novel, coming from Simon & Schuster in 2004, also centers on music.