Cherry Whip is a marvelous novel by Michael Antman - light and frothy at times, like its namesake confection, but also sometimes heavy and serious, like a cherry whip’s chocolate coating.
Hiroshi Mori, a young Japanese musical jazz genius on the clarinet, is obsessed with the English language and wordplay. Hiroshi wonders, for instance, if he is seeing a “troupe” of Girl Scouts, or a Girl Scout Troop, who flew in to New York with him from Tokyo; he wonders if it’s better to think that his recording career is beginning to “...pick up steam” or “...a head of steam”. He also feels intense guilt for having been a factor in his older sister’s death in Japan, and how as children they’d played on a mysterious “Forbidden Pathway.”
He’s in New York to perform for a Master Class; he has a gig at a local club. The trouble is, he doesn’t reckon on becoming temporarily paralyzed when he contracts Guillen-Barre from the immunization shots he needed to take to enter America. Also, a four thousand dollar clarinet his father gave him vanishes; he either accidentally left it somewhere or it was stolen, so he has to rely on a different one he brought. The “Cherry Whip” of the title is candy he buys as a souvenir for his five-year-old brother, Manabu. It, like much else in the novel, goes wrong for Hiroshi when the treat ends up melting in his pants pocket.
How can a story about a genius Japanese clarinetist who becomes paralyzed and dwells on his feelings of guilt also be an often humorous, captivating page-turner of a book? The subject doesn’t seem to be one that could easily incorporate these seemingly contradictory feelings from its readers, but it does this very well, thanks to Michael Antman’s clever writing and wordplay. Hiroshi, known as “Hero” to a friend he meets in New York named Maureen, himself experiences sixteen seemingly incompatible emotions within: “...the space of a second and a half.”
Though a musical wunderkind, in intimate social situations, he often acts like an “idiot”, as Maureen puts it. Hiroshi is put through a physical and emotional wringer from the time he has to spend in the hospital, his lengthy recuperation, suicidal thoughts, and the possibility of giving up playing the clarinet forever. He sometimes seems to be stuck in a state of self-loathing, but the book maintains a precarious balance between tragedy and comedy through all of this. His father’s traumatic visits to him in the hospital, an affair he has with his physical therapist, and the guilt he carries that, if only he hadn’t been totally drunk (in a sort of “paralyzed” state) when his sister took an overdose of pills and wandered off to a shack at the end of the “Forbidden Path” mentioned earlier to die, he could have saved her life.
Cherry Whip is a quirky modern book full of artfully woven humor, pathos, and seeming contradictions. Despite the trials and tribulations Hiroshi faces, he makes it to the book’s somewhat abrupt conclusion for the most part intact. The novel could have easily gone on longer; I would have liked to have read more about how his musical career and life turned out. In this respect, Cherry Whip has a type of Cell-like ending. Still, Cherry Whip leaves the reader with an overall pleasant aftertaste and a desire to see more great writing from this up-and-coming author in the future.