The Piano Man's Daughter by Timothy Findley
This novel was a little slow starting but once it got going it was fascinating. I found it a bit muddled at first, what with the switching back and forth from one time period to another and from one character's life to another. Written with a detachment that it took awhile to get used to, it was a strong story once I got adapted to the style and got everybody sorted out. Somewhere in Section Two, I was hooked.
The "Daughter" referred to in the title is Lily, daughter of Tom, who is the "Piano Man". Lily suffers with mental illness, a condition that has plagued her since childhood and that never lets her live a normal life with her son Charlie. Raised by her mother, Edith, who tried to give her daughter as normal a life as possible, she lived in a world that was detached from the reality around her much of the time. In her world the rules were different, and that of course created problems for her family and friends, who could not understand the seizures she sometimes experienced or her unsettling obsession with fire.
The narrator is Lily's grown son, Charlie, who as a child tried to care for his mother during her bad spells, but who eventually went to live with his aunt and uncle when his mother's condition deteriorated to the point where she had to be institutionalized for the first time. When Lily's condition improved enough to be released she would find a place for her and Charlie to live and they would be a family again until her condition worsened and she had to be re-admitted.
The story of Edith, Lily and Charlie is a close-up look at how mental illness can affect a family and even tear it apart when the stress of holding things together becomes overwhelming. It's a tragic illness that can strip the sufferer's life of everything meaningful and destroy relationships that can't bear the weight of it's confines and complexity. And yet, life goes on. As in real life, the characters in this book put one foot in front of the other and keep going because, what else is there to do? This is a well told, consuming story that may not let you put the book down when you want to. It's hard to resist.
This is an amazing story, and I'm hoping to find more like it in Timothy Findley's other novels which include: Headhunter, Famous Last Words, Not Wanted on the Voyage, and The Wars. He has also written two collections of short stories and at least one play. "The Piano Man's Daughter" is well worth the read and I highly recommend it.