The Song Is You (Magill's Literary Annual 2010)
Arthur Phillips’s The Song Is You takes its title from a Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II tune originally written for the 1932 show Music in the Air and later popularized by a young Frank Sinatra. The novel concludes with an author’s note listing over one hundred composers, from Antonio Vivaldi to David Bowie and beyond, whose song titles the book incorporates. Thus, from beginning to end, the book is alive with music. Hammerstein’s well-known lyrics to “The Song Is You” celebrate the ability of physical allure to evoke music in one’s mind. Appropriately for Phillips’s purposes, they also carry a disquieting subtext about a frustrating inability to escape from solipsisman inability that keeps one separate from the object of one’s affections.
The concluding extensive catalog of composers, for its part, sets up a kind of game, challenging readers to go back and find the references and allusions they may have missed the first time through the book. Moreover, Phillips embeds invented song lyrics in his narrative, as well as rendering music an incessant presence throughout the novel: It is recorded on vinyl, reel-to-reel tapes, cassettes, and compact discs (CDs); played on hi-fi stereo systems, televisions, Walkmans, and iPods; and stored on Web sites and computer files. Phillips uses this omnipresence of music to invite readers to reconsider the bond between performer and listener, and the altered nature of communication,...
(The entire section is 1829 words.)
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