The Sound Between the Notes starts out a bit slow, but the story gains momentum quickly and it’s soon hard to put down. Susannah, the protagonist, is a child protégé who gives up a classical pianist career to be a full-time mother to her son, who is almost 16. She believes he doesn’t need her as much as he once did. (Having raised three children through their teen years, that philosophy is my first red flag.) So with her pulse sky rocketing, Susannah plays Schubert’s B-flat sonata as she auditions in Manhattan for a chance to return to the professional stage. Susannah worries about hitting one note incorrectly during her audition, though no one seems to notice.
Susannah’s lack of coordination with one finger, dropping things when her grip weakens, quickly becomes an obsession. Her family doctor’s diagnosis of Dupuytren’s contracture—a progressive hereditary disease that causes the fingers over time to become bent and unresponsive. A couple weeks later she receives word that she won the audition. She accepts the honor of the one-woman, 45-minute concert performance as the professional classical music world opens for her. And the tension increases with every page.
Her doctor wants to know if there is a family history of the disease. But Susannah is an adoptee and does not know her family health history. She fears the disease will progress rapidly and ruin her ability to play complicated classical piano music.
I liked the way Probst built the novel: chapters are organized as NOW and THEN. NOW is her obsessive search for a treatment to prevent the Dupuytren’s contracture disease from destroying her ability to play piano professionally.
Her obsession causes a fracture in her relationship with her scientist husband, and in her ability to recognize signs of trouble with her teenage son—like the pervasive smells of marijuana and beer as he turns disrespectful, coming home past curfew. NOW also features poignant visits with her widowed adoptive father as he slips further into dementia.
THEN, she reminisces about her childhood as the chosen one of her adoptive parents. The tension continues to escalate when, as a young adult, she travels to Texas in search of her biological parents, and NOW as she continues the search, trying to find the link to her inherited disease.
There are six parts to the story. Each part opens with a quote from a famous musician. A few of my favorite examples:
Part One: “Do not take up music unless you would rather die than not do so.” ~Nadia Boulanger, renowned composer, conductor, and teacher.
Part Two: “To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan, and not quite enough time.” ~Leonard Bernstein
Part Three: “The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between.” ~Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. (This one may have been the inspiration for the title of the novel, The Sound Between the Notes.)
This book is unlike any other I’ve read. The story flows seamlessly with plot surprises and well-developed, unforgettable characters. It will appeal to musicians; adoptees, adoptive parents, and those who give children up for adoption; as well as any dual-career couple, parents of teenagers, or anyone with a family member dealing with memory problems.