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By J. Stephen Bolhafner
Published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Sunday, October 19, 1997, Page 5C

A novel by Anne Rice
289 pages, Knopf, $25.95

THE FIRST 20 pages of this book are as difficult to read as anything I've encountered. The narrator, Triana, seems to be descending into madness, caressing the body of her dead husband as a perhaps imaginary stranger outside on the street serenades her on a violin. After two days, when the body begins to stink, I began to suspect that the entire novel would be played out in this fashion, but thankfully a neighbor forces open a door and calls the police.

The neighbor also hears the violin player, which would seem to negate the suspicion that he's a ghost, except that in a later scene he comes through a wall into Triana's bedroom out of the pouring rain, drips water on her bed, and then vanishes before her eyes.

It turns out he is a ghost, but one capable of making humans see him through the power of his violin. There is some question whether it is his own undeniable talent or the violin itself - an unusual Stradivarius, the so-called "long Strad" - which performs the magic here. The two are intimately entwined, as we shall see when the ghost takes Triana into the past to see how he became what he is.

This is not one of Rice's best books. The love/hate relationship that develops between Triana and her ghost never seemed real to me - I certainly never understood how or why either of them could feel such passionate tenderness for the other, when a moment ago they were shouting hateful things at each other.

Narration by a character on the edge of madness is a very tricky thing, and Rice doesn't always manage to keep it both believable and understandable. As the book goes on, however, it becomes clear that Triana's encounter with the ghost is therapeutic. The prose becomes less tortured, more straightforward, as Triana comes slowly out of her madness. It's a quick read, once you get past that awful opening.

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