Music may have, at times, charms to soothe the savage breast. If you’re looking for stories where this happens, though, you won’t find them in Seven Touches Of Music, a collection - or mosaic - of stories by Serbian author Zoran Zivkovic, loosely connected by the theme of music’s power over the human psyche. Instead, you’ll read disquieting accounts of individuals who experience strange revelations provoked by their encounters with music.
Each of the first six stories are tied together within the context of the concluding story, “The Violin Maker,” and all leave the reader with the same type of eerie feeling evoked by an episode of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone. Kudos also to Aio Publishing Company for the book’s beautifully executed cover - in black, with part of the body of a violin on it, and the title written in lime green horizontally down the right side.
The first short story, “The Whisper,” is about Dr. Martin, a man who is having no success at getting his autistic pupils to come out of their shells. Nothing he does seems to have much of an effect of them, though they have different reactions and devote varying efforts to periods of freestyle drawing. Martin gets the idea to listen to music “as relief from the oppressive silence to which he never could acclimatize” and brings his favorite CD of Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Minor, Opus 21 to listen to. It has a marked effect on Philip, a pupil whose nose, because of weak capillaries, sometimes “would bleed spontaneously.” Philip always fills up sheets of paper with various sizes of circles, but when he hears the Chopin piece, he adds a series of numbers. Dr. Martin discovers through an friend in mathematics that the numbers have great meaning in physics:
”If you put a decimal point two places before the first seven, then you get 0.00729735308, which is one of the fundamental values of nature, the fine-structure constant. I don’t know about the digits after the eight. If they weren’t given at random, to confuse me even more, then it must be God himself who whispered them to you because at this moment
only He is able to measure after the eleventh significant figure.”
The other stories are enjoyable as well, though I don’t generally like stories lacking clear-cut resolutions. None of these stories have one, leaving it up to the reader to make of what’s come before as much as he/she can but nonetheless hanging. This provokes an unsatisfactory feeling of disquiet; the tales are all interesting, but I would have them to end with issues resolved and loose ends tied up.
For instance, the second story, “The Fire,” got my attention right away. A librarian named Mrs. Martha has dreams of a fire gutting a Great Library (presumably the one at Alexandria), caused in some way by hooded monk-like figures who march into the library playing musical instruments. Is it the magical effect of the music which starts the fire? Mrs. Martha can’t get them to stop, and the fire rages. Later, she sees the same scenes play out on her computer at the library where she works and is powerless to do anything. But when tendrils of smoke come out of the back of the computer, the water sprinklers go on, at least preventing a fire at her own library. Still, she doesn’t know anything further about what it was she saw either in her dreams or on the computer screen, or why, and she tells no one else about what she saw. So, while I enjoyed reading these stories and think Zivkovics is an excellent writer, the endings of the stories weren’t my cup of tea. I anticipated that an attempt would be made to link the tales together in the last story, but the only thing that seemed to relate them was the theme of music.
“The Violin-maker,” the final short story of the collection, is masterfully written and almost makes up for the feelings of disquietude concerning the endings of the previous stories. A master violin maker, Mr. Tomasi, falls to a mysterious death from a high window. His apprentice, Mr. Umbertini, finds himself out of work, though he has learned enough skills that he should, if he chose to, be able to set himself up in the same business quite profitably. Instead, he rents a cheap basement room close to the maestro’s old workshop and becomes a regular customer at a bar, slowly drinking himself to death. Various people there relate their ideas to him of why Mr. Tomasi committed suicide, but Umbertini knows none of them are accurate. Then, when six strangers walk into the bar, the main characters of the previous six stories, the rest of the final story is enough of a pay-off to help redeem and tie together the entire collection. Readers interested in quirky supernatural Twilight Zone-types of stories in a beautiful package will enjoy Seven Touches of Music.