Sonata: A Memoir of Pain and the Piano by Andrea Avery

Some people make music their life while others live life musically.  Andrea Avery writes her life as Sonata.  Using Franz Schubert’s sonata in B-flat D960 as inspiration and metaphor, she shares her memoir of living with RA, rheumatoid arthritis.  Like Schubert, debilitated at the height of his career, Andrea, in college, gives up her dream of playing piano professionally when her body will no longer allow it.  Instead of succumbing to her disability, as directed by a professor at Arizona State, she uses her pain to compose music (129), in this case, music in prose.  

Each chapter is a movement of the sonata (e.g. Allegro Giocoso or Largo) and is accompanied by a quote from Ludwig Wittgenstein, brother to one-armed pianist Paul Wittgenstein.  These headings name the tenor of the chapter and set her story in the context of a community of musicians and philosophers wrapping their heads around the place of pain and illness in art.  Resonant of Olivia Laing’s THE LONELY CITY, Avery manages to make connections out of her individual and isolating experiences.  Reaching out from these dark places, she speaks to us readers in our own.  A climax comes in Target, of all places, where she encounters a curious little boy who asks why she looks the way she does.  The incident, a cadenza of sorts, becomes a turning point.  It is time go beyond the “deflection tactics,” (142), the tattoos and funky clothes, and claim “bi-abled” status, exclaiming, “I am the things I make.  I am not the shape I take” (205).

Andrea’s writing style is like the eclectic look she develops from childhood.  “She’s something else” her physicist father likes to say.  She’s not afraid to embrace a both a hip tone peppered with slang and references from her favorite grunge bands, as well as the academic elegance of research and her mother’s copious medical notes.  Related-able to most every reader, she extends to us the same encouragement as the teachers she takes after to “put some oomph in it!”   find the book via Pegasus


Author: marilivtollefson

I teach and play violin when not reading and reviewing books. Thanks to indie authors for opening my world and sharing theirs! Find my reviews on Goodreads, Amazon, Kobo, Midwest Book Review and BookPage, among others.

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