Review: Encore (Blue Notes #5) by Shira Anthony

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Encore-BuildWhen teenagers Roger Nelson and John Fuchs  meet in the band room of Maryville’s Senior High School in 1971, they discovered they shared the same passion for music.  Roger Nelson with his violin and John Fuchs with his dream of conducting.  Each teenager came from different backgrounds and moved in different circles in high school, Roger Nelson, the “cool kid” popular with all crowds and John Fuchs, the stuttering, shy transfer from St. Barnaby’s, an expensive private school.  Brought together by music, they soon developed a deep friendship that made them inseparable.  Then it turned into something more.

John had always known he was gay so his love for Roger seemed natural and right. However, Roger’s attraction and love for John confused him, making him feel unsettled and insecure especially in the 70’s where homosexuality was still looked at with disgust and ignorance.  Together through college and graduation, John and Roger continue their secret romance despite growing opposition from Roger’s parents. Then two tragedies occur that immediately impact Roger and his family.  The ripples from those events serve to separate Roger and John, shattering their romance but not their love for each other.

For the next several decades, the men’s lives intersect only to  be pulled apart time and again.  When one more event brings them back together, will this be the encore they have been waiting for or will their last chance at love slip away forever?

Encore is Shira Anthony’s most ambitious and deeply layered Blue Notes story to date.  Over the course of the Blue Notes series, Anthony has been building a symphony of characters deeply involved in the world of music and their relationships.  Whether it was a pianist or conductor, violinist or opera singer, cellist or lawyer in the musical entertainment industry, Shira Anthony has introduced us to the men whose passions for music has driven their lives, loves, and careers. But those previous stories, for the most part,  have had a specific  short time span for the men and their love affairs.  Now in Encore, Anthony goes for the larger picture, not just a movement but the whole composition.  Here she strives for a symphony and achieves it.

Encore is a musical term derived from the French word “again”.  It is a repeat performance or an additional musical piece that occurs after the main piece or event concludes and it is the perfect term to apply to the on and off again relationship of Roger Nelson and John Fuchs, two characters introduced as a couple in previous novels.  Starting in 1971 and ending in 2006, Anthony creates a romance that encompasses a 35-year time frame.  It will see the beginnings of the AIDS epidemic, the fight for gays rights, and finally the beginnings of social acceptance of homosexuality.  Against such a historic and dramatic background, the author has created her most textured and multidimensional romance in this or any other series.

Even at the beginning of John and Roger’s relationship, each young man has their personalities already firmly in place.  John is already comfortable being gay, even in 1971.  The kids have already taken note of his “difference”, an aspect of his personality that will only deepen as John ages and finds his own style, totally comfortable in his skin and element.   And while John may stutter in emotional situations, his belief in himself and his music is unwavering.  I loved John.  I understood his behavior and his emotional outlook on life and his music because Anthony has made him so transparent and accessible even with all his layers.

Then there is Roger.  The wonderful, exasperating, heartbreaking Roger.

Roger Nelson inside is the antithesis of his outward appearance and behavior.  On the surface, Roger is all “coolness” and popularity, his easy nature and charm crossing high school and then college social circles.  But inside, he is a tumultuous mess.  Pressures from his parents, society, and their expectations for Roger’s future collide with his own dreams for himself and the resulting avalanche will derail everything Roger and John had planned for their lives together.  While all Roger’s friends and family is aware he loves music, none but John understand how crucial it is to Roger, that music and the violin are fundamental parts of Roger, as necessary to him as food and air. It’s that essential part of Roger that is lost or an aspect of it is lost.  And for the reader, it is important that we are able to connect with that feeling in order for us to really understand  Roger and his actions.  For Roger, the loss of music and his ability to play the violin is nothing less than the deepest wound to his soul, like losing an appendage.  The hole it leaves behind can never be forgotten or overlooked.  Roger too feels so real, a living, breathing walking gash of a man.  And, due to the author’s deep connection with her character and her ability to bring this man to life, Roger is also the character that will engender a wide spectrum of feelings from the readers.

Roger has the ability to become such a misunderstood character in this story if the reader doesn’t take the time to put him into perspective, both historically and emotionally.  John never had the pressures put on his that Roger has had throughout his life.  Nor has John had to deal with the worst thing that could possibly happen to himself and Roger.  That is the loss of their music, the destruction of all their hopes and dreams and that is exactly what happens to Roger early on in their story.  This loss guts Roger.  It takes his heart and shatters it, leaving Roger incapable of going forward with his life as a whole person.

I think that Shira Anthony captures that feeling, that crushing loss, and it’s resulting reverberations on someone’s emotions and behavior realistically and with great pain and insight.  The author has stated that in many respects “Roger” is her.  Roger, his  character, is her outlet to express the emotions and heartbreak she felt upon leaving her career as an opera singer behind.  And it shows in the realness, the pain, the constant turmoil and upheavals in his life that Roger finds himself going through.  She made me believe in Roger totally.

At times the reader will be frustrated with Roger’s  actions.  Trust me, I was.  But again, you need to keep in mind that the man going through the various stages in his life is a man bereft of his center, his heart.  Then Roger becomes someone who needs our compassion and empathy as well as our understanding.  I think so many of us can point to moments in our life when things went awry.  Maybe it was a slight altering of goals or a detour taken that we notice only in hindsight.  But for Roger and so many others, there are life shattering events and decisions that send them off on a journey they never expected or wanted.    Accident or warfare, a missed step or terrorism.  The why is sometimes less important  than what happens after.  And here, in Encore, Shira Anthony lays it all out for us as it takes Roger 35 years to come to grip with his eviscerating loss and his love for John.

As we watch Roger and John come together only to separate once again, I am reminded of the various acts in an opera.  Just as an opera has various acts, stages it must go through,  so is this book divided into different periods.  Each division moves the story forward, sometimes just a couple of years or so, sometimes a decade until we arrive at the last act and the highly satisfying encore.  This is an emotional journey, full of the cracks and crevasses that come over time and with two such diverse men at the center.  Have the tissues handy, you will need them. as this story has the ability to make you weep as well as smile.

I can’t say it enough, Encore is such a remarkable story.  It is definitely one of the best of 2013.  It is a symphony of emotions, its instruments the men Shira Anthony has created along with their deep love for music and each other.  Encore will have you calling for a repeat performance from this incredible author.  Brava, brava!

As with all her stories, here is the link to the playlist for Encore. http://www.shiraanthony.com/books/encore/#extras 

Cover art by Catt Ford.  This cover is perfection in every way, from the picture of the two men as boys to the branding that keeps it similar in look to the other Blue Notes covers.

Listed below are all the stories in the Blue Notes series.  The author has noted that she considers it a series of interrelated, classical music themed standalone novels that can be read in any order.

Knowing (Blue Notes, #0.5) a free read at Goodreads
Blue Notes (Blue Notes, #1)
The Melody Thief (Blue Notes, #2)
Aria (Blue Notes, #3)
Prelude (Blue Notes, #4) by Shira Anthony and Venona Keyes
Encore (Blue Notes, #5)
Symphony in Blue (Blue Notes, #4.5) Expected publication: December 25th 2013 by Dreamspinner Press

Book Details:

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