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The Song Beneath the Ice

by Joe Fiorito

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literary
list price: $21.99
edition:Paperback
category: Fiction
published: 2003
ISBN:9780771032325
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Description

A year after concert pianist Dominic Amoruso’s mysterious disappearance during a private recital in Toronto, his friend, the journalist Joe Serafina, receives a package of Dom’s tapes and notebooks from a place called Wolf Cove on Baffin Island. By transcribing the tapes and matching them with entries in the notebooks, Joe slowly pieces together the story of what happened to his friend.

Dom has grown up in the deep shadow of Glenn Gould – and in the shadow of expectations that he carry on Gould’s heritage. It is a heavy load, one he struggles and argues with constantly, challenging Gould’s decisions even as his own identity as a musician disintegrates. Freely popping a variety of pills to ward off migraines and other, more existential pains, Dom confides only in his tape recorder. When Joe starts nosing around, he finds that Dom’s friends, such as the music store owner Buddy Keane, the photographer Carol Paterson, and his lover, Claire Weller, are either as perplexed as he is by Dom’s sudden disappearance or annoyed by the journalist’s interest.

Fiorito has woven his novel from the separate strands of Dom’s tapes and notebooks and from Joe’s investigation into the pianist’s story. Brilliantly conceived and expressed, and with an exquisite sense of place, the story takes us from downtown Toronto’s Vietnamese restaurants and homeless shelters to seal-skinning contests on Baffin Island. The Song Beneath the Ice is a dazzling novel of extraordinary ambition and accomplishment.

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Excerpt

YOU MAY RECALL THIS STORY from the newspapers:

A year or so ago, during a recital of Pictures at an Exhibition, the concert pianist Dominic Amoruso stopped, got up from the piano, turned to the audience, paused – and walked away with­out a word. Just like that, he disappeared.

There were suggestions at the time of an attack of stage fright; the onset of some sudden illness; a temperamental reaction to some careless noise in the audience; perhaps a nervous breakdown. I was there that night. I saw what happened. I’m still not sure I understand.

He was performing in the Walker Court of the Art Gallery of Ontario. He was playing the piece with which he launched his career, and with which he is most closely associated. He’d begun with his usual brilliance. There was no hint of anything unusual.

He plays the Musorgsky as written – more powerful, per­haps more jagged than you are used to hearing it. Closer to Richter than Horowitz; closer to Ashkenazy than Richter; but all Musorgsky. Or so I am told. I am not a music critic. But I do have particular knowledge of Amoruso. I have known him since childhood. He has the nerves of a burglar. He often joked that he could play Pictures in his sleep, that he played it better in his dreams. That night, however, he became progressively more tentative as he made his way through the music and, towards the end, his hands began to jerk back from the piano as if he feared the keys might bite him.

He appeared puzzled. Then frightened. He grimaced. He fought himself. He froze. He sat for a moment with his hands raised high in front of him, unable or unwilling to move. The image was that of a child shielding his face from the attentions of a large black dog.

In the audience: silence, whispers, murmurs, gasps. Men and women shifting in their seats. A few rows behind me, a man began to clap and a shrill, two-fingered whistle pierced the rising murmur. Someone hissed at the rudeness; then, as if to explain that the hiss was meant to admonish the whistler and not the pianist, the crowd broke into earnest, almost apologetic applause.

Dominic let his hands fall. His shoulders sagged. He pushed himself up from the piano bench and faced us as if he were about to speak. I held my breath; we all did. He made a useless gesture with his hands. No words came. He looked up and flinched as if he thought something might fall on him. He turned on his heel and walked away, without so much as a sideways glance.

The director of the gallery tried to catch his elbow.

Thomas Carter is a small slim grey-haired man who favours a crisp black suit and an impeccable white shirt. Amoruso brushed past him.

Carter took centre stage and apologized briskly on Dominic’s behalf. Said he was sure it was nothing serious. Efforts were being made to take care of him, there was indeed a doctor in the house – a remark that caused a titter. There were plenty of them in the house.

And then, with a confident smile, Carter made a few remarks about the evening’s exhibition, about which more in a moment. He invited us to join him for a glass of champagne, after which he said we might like to take a stroll through the gallery.

*****

I caught up with Carter and asked if I could help in any way. He directed me to a makeshift green room off to the side of Walker Court. Dominic was nowhere to be seen. No one could tell me where he was. And so I resolved to find him.

I left the gallery and went to look for him in his usual post-performance haunts. I went to Pho Pasteur, Dai Nam – his favour­ite noodle shops in Chinatown: No, sorry, we ­haven’t seen him, not tonight, we don’t know where he is.

I went to the Fran’s on College St. No, dear, he ­hasn’t been in. At least not this evening. If he drops by later, is there a message? I took the subway to the Fran’s on St. Clair, the one near his apartment; the same response. I walked to his apartment building and rang his buzzer. Nothing doing. The doorman said he ­hadn’t seen him that evening, although I was sure this was an act of loyalty.

I was stumped.

As nearly as I can determine, he made three phone calls that evening: first, to Claire Weller – they were intimate; second, to his agent, the elderly but formidable Anne Langelier. And there was a brief and simple message on my machine when I finally got home: It’s me. I’m sorry. –Don’t worry. I’ll be in touch. His voice sounded altogether serene.

It seems to me that when someone does something quite out of character, says ­“Don’t worry,” and then drops out of sight, it is prudent to worry in earnest. I tried to return his call. I was not the only one – his phone rang busy all night long. Eventually I gave up – either several of us were trying to get through all at once and we were blocking the line, or he had taken his phone off the hook.

I finally got through the next morning.

His voice mail kicked in after half a dozen rings. His mailbox was full and would no longer accept new messages.

*****

It ­didn’t add up.

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Contributor notes

Joe Fiorito is the author of Comfort Me With Apples, first published in 1994, and Tango on the Main (1996), a selection of his city columns from the Montreal Gazette. His family memoir, The Closer We Are to Dying, published in 1999, was a national best-seller and earned the author further critical acclaim. Guy Vanderhaeghe called it “a remarkable memoir, perhaps the finest by a Canadian writer since John Glassco’s Memoirs of Montparnasse appeared in 1970.” Fiorito lives in Toronto and writes for the Toronto Star.

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Editorial Review

“Fiorito expertly captures the cultural ferment of 1990s Toronto.”
Globe and Mail
“Note perfect. Intelligent from its intriguing first notes to its enigmatic conclusion.”
Vancouver Sun
“In this complex novel saturated with sound, barely a false note is sounded.”
–Montreal Gazette

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