Body and Soul by Frank Conroy
reviewed by Lois Ferrari
Department of Music
Sarofim School of Fine Arts
Picture yourself a child prodigy. Then picture yourself seated at a piano. The piano is old and dilapidated, dusty and dingy, and, worst of all…out of tune! You’re sitting on a wobbly, splintered bench that secrets a stash of dog-eared sheet music and a few bloated spiders. The dirty barred basement window of your niche (‘room’ is a bit too generous) looks out onto a busy New York City street, and the noise from the nearby “el” provides impromptu percussive accompaniment to scales, arpeggios, and dreams alike. Your mother is a paranoid delusional taxi driver who sees communist conspiracies in her beer foam. Your pals know every trick there is to finding deposit bottles for a penny apiece. Your best friend is the eccentric owner of the music store with the tinkling bell. The guy who discovered the talent locked away in your untapped soul. The man who taught you finger position and how to talk to girls. The father you never had.
The setting of Body and Soul by Frank Conroy is Depression-era New York, where Claude, a poor frail boy with a rich robust heart, discovers he has a phenomenal gift. Yet Claude has no way to unwrap it until he meets the one man who will change his life forever and set him upon a path that few ever travel. A path paved with wonderfully rich experiences which illustrate, like no other book I’ve ever read, what it’s truly like to be a dedicated musician. The joy of discovering this divine form of expression-part emotion, part intellect, part intangible art. The pain of sacrifice. The loneliness of devotion. The sublime exhilaration of performance. For every musician who ever felt “no one understands,” Frank Conroy does.