HAVE TO say, it probably was too good to be true. The title alone, I now realize is a promise hard to keep: Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall. For a long time, the combination of music, twilight and the “novella in stories” concept is something that I’ve been hoping to conquer as a writer. Music is difficult to write about, musicians even more so.
The best books about music still thrum in my head — Michael Ondaatje’s Coming Through Slaughter, of course; A.J. Albany’s Low Down. (And movies, like 32 Short Films about Glenn Gould.)Ishiguro’s Nocturne’s, sadly wasn’t one of them. All the elements seemed in place: a fading-light jazz-cum-lounge singer; a savant cellist; a young singer-songwriter hiding away outside of London to sort out just whom he might be outside of fashion or expectation. But ultimately the stories felt flat, formulaic; a series of types placed in painfully contrived situations (eg. the moderately successful, middle-aged, jazz tenorman whose ugly- duckling face has kept him from the fame (in jazz??!?) he deserves. In an attempt to both save his career — and marriage — he decides to go under the knife — madcap insanity ensues: (say that three times fast). Plodding, awkward, even slapstick in places, Nocturnes doesn’t so much feel as if it wasn’t finished, it feels as if he never really got started, that Ishiguro didn’t quite find his way into the plots and characters, the motivations. Also, interesting to note, was his characterization of the American musician — jazz mostly — and this sort of pat, scenario that felt lifted from the pages of People, or from a segment on Extra or . . . whatever pop culture drivel that passes for entertainment news that we beam out 24-7 from Los Angeles. The city — L.A. doesn’t fare so well either — Beverly Hills plastic surgeons and “recovery hotels” but quite surprisingly there are a couple of weirdly coincidental shout-outs to two of my special alma maters: Culver City AND L.A. Weekly. What a coincidence is that? So, really I guess it was meant for me to see; a puzzle that I still need to figure out.