Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia
Pub. Date: May 13, 2014
Source: ARC via publisher (Thank you, HMH!)
Summary: A high school music festival goes awry when a young prodigy disappears from a hotel room that was the site of a famous murder/suicide fifteen years earlier, in a whip-smart novel sparkling with the dark and giddy pop culture pleasures of The Shining, Agatha Christie, and Glee.
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery
Let’s take another look at that summary, shall we? In just a single sentence I was hooked and needed to read Bellweather Rhapsody. Not only did the plot sound delightful (or as delightful as a murder/suicide can be), but then to be thrown references to The Shining and Agatha Christie! Unfortunately, when all was said and done, I felt this novel relied too much on those references and lacked its own spark. Take away Jack Nicholson and all that’s left is a book with many, many (too many!) characters and far-reaching aspirations it can’t quite attain.
In its heyday, the Bellweather hotel was THE place to be. Its rooms were constantly rotating with girlfriends and wives – never at the same time! – and every day was a party. Fifteen years ago, however, a bride shot her husband and then hung herself. Since then the hotel has been in a slow state of decline, the only time its rooms are mostly full is once a year for Statewide, a high school music festival. Careers can be made at Statewide and the best musicians from across the country show up to put their talents on full display. This year, however, a girl goes missing – and no one’s quite certain whether or not she’s dead – and the events from fifteen years ago seem to be replaying once more.
I wasn’t joking when I mentioned the sheer number of characters. Usually I follow a ‘the more the merrier’ adage when it comes to characters and storylines. Here, however, I had a hard time keeping them straight and in one case didn’t figure out two characters were completely different people until 100 pages from the end. While I’m not entirely blameless, I do think the novel suffered for not having clear-cut characters: readers shouldn’t be confused as to who’s who. In my case, I was thoroughly convinced Minnie’s sister/brother-in-law was the couple from fifteen years ago; they were all at the Bellweather for the wedding and it was Minnie who discovered the bodies. Imagine my surprise then when Minnie’s reintroduced over one hundred pages later with her family alive and well. There was simply too much to keep straight; characters and storylines that were mentioned in the beginning of the novel were completely forgotten about by the time the ending rolled around.
I felt Bellweather Rhapsody tried too hard to be too many things and tackle too many topics: Rabbit’s sexuality was the focus of his chapters from the get-go – he’s decided to come out to his sister – and by the time the climax rolls around, it’s SO anti-climatic that I wasn’t sure what the point was the begin with. In a single throw-away remark April mentions she knows he’s gay and that’s that. The entire book was spent waxing poetic about the boys he’s crushed on in the past, the moment he realized he was different, what will his parents say!, there’s a cute boy at Statewide and Rabbit’s ready for a new beginning…it all culminated into one whispered question and then never brought up again.
There’s a Scottish conductor who was once a prodigy until he lost three fingers in a barfight, a former prodigy who grew up to be evil incarnate and has groomed her prodigy of a daughter to be the best, a chaperone who had once loved music and carries a world of guilt on her shoulders, the hotel concierge who’s slowly losing touch with reality – the list goes on. I honestly enjoyed these characters and their stories – I especially liked Fisher and Rabbit – but the focus quickly blurred toward the end to the point where I truly have no idea if certain characters even existed or if certain scenes ever happened. Perhaps that was the point of the novel and I missed it entirely. That said, when it comes to mysteries I like – and expect! – clear-cut answers and, sadly, Bellweather Rhapsody failed to deliver.
I don’t want to give the impression that the novel was all bad – it certainly wasn’t! When it was good it was great and I was thoroughly ensnared. Unfortunately, those moments of brilliance were dampened by the multitude of narratives and plot points and readers should never be confused. I’m positive Bellweather Rhapsody will find its audience – I wanted so badly to love it! – but it just wasn’t for me. This year I took a long look at publishers and which imprints work for me. When it comes to Houghton Mifflin, I tend to enjoy their Young Adult novels far more than Adult, and Bellweather Rhapsody further proves my findings.
Alice is unlike anyone Minnie has ever met, let alone tried to make friends with. When you look in her eyes they fix and look back instead of darting off to another corner of the room. She opens to people. Minnie folds in like an envelope; Alice erupts like a self-exploding pinata. She’s easy to be with, provided you don’t mind the constant chatter, the non-sequitur song cues, or her total lack of an indoor voice. Maybe this is what it would have been like to have a sister, a sister who wasn’t already grown up, moved out, and married by the time Minnie was ready for all-night candy binges and video marathons, for hand-me-down trashy romance novels with the juicy parts dog-eared at the corners.
“I’m a twin. My brother has always been the good twin, the sweet and kind and smart one, and I’ve always been the bad twin, the loud and funny one who would probably run her own saloon if the Gold Rush were still on, and I’m afraid of who I’ll be when Bert isn’t there to remind me what my better self, my best self, is made of.”