Review double-header…

The Ensemble by Aja Gabel

Writing: 4.5 Plot: 4 Characters: 4

A story about the Van Ness String Quartet and the individual members comprising it, both evolving from rocky beginnings to success and stability. Some very nice descriptions of music and the art of making music together. Over the roughly 15 years of the story there are romances, friendships, children, students, and always lots about the music.

At first I didn’t enjoy it as it seemed far more about individual dysfunction than music, but then I realized the author used this personal squirming to show the interplay between the growth of the entity and the growth of its constituent parts.

A compelling story for me, both in terms of the world of classical music performance and the personal motivations and challenges for each performer. I also found it interesting to see which characters I could relate to and which left me cold (I related best to Henry and Brit…). Would love to compare notes with others!

Mambo in Chinatown by Jean Kwok

Writing: 3 Plot: 3 Characters: 4

Kind of disappointing. Pretty obvious “ugly duckling becomes beautiful dancing swan” plot and stereotype characters (simplistic Chinese immigrants, semi-slutty, neurotic, but super nice and supportive ballroom dancers). What started out as an obvious story told in a sweet way became just an obvious story told without a lot of grace. Writing was decent but the characters and story were just too simplistic for me.

There were some very nice Lao Tzu quotes, description of Tai Chi and Qigong, and descriptions of ballroom dancing in the first half. And I did enjoy the characters at the beginning when they had more individuality and less stereotype to them. Somehow it feels as though the second half was written more hurriedly and more focused on plot and less on the character and environment that made the first half so enjoyable.