Sunday, January 11, 2004

Maybe Next Time

Karin Kallmaker
Bella Books

Scientists who map the human brain have discovered that when most people hear music, their pleasure centers are stimulated in the brain. When musicians hear music, their language centers are stimulated. For violin virtuoso Sabrina Starling, the protagonist of Karin Kallmaker's novel, Maybe Next Time, music is not only a language, it is the language she depends upon to express her emotions. Bree, as she is known from childhood, first began to play the violin when she was four years old. And it is music that allows her to survive the death of her mother and her father before she is six. Music is the only way she can breech the wall that grief and loss have built around her childhood. With her music she can adapt to living in rural Hawaii with her mother's best friend, Lani, and Lani's daughter, Jorie. Through her music, Bree will be blessed time and again as her life crosses other great musicians who guide or encourage her.

However, there are things that Bree doesn't seem able to understand. She struggles to understand her feelings for her Jorie. Her love for Jorie is exciting and frightening. Jorie, Bree believes could be "music for a lifetime." (108) Despite the teens' explorations, Jorie doesn't seem to reciprocate Bree's love. This rejection is just one more section in the wall that stands between Bree and the rest of the world. Identifying as lesbian when she goes off to study music at the Conservatory, Bree discovers other women who are very attracted to her. For several years she takes a "living in the moment" approach to romance, indulging in the groupies of the classical music world. While her professional life was successful beyond imagining, her personal life was lonely. Bree's love for Jorie is an ache that she hasn't been able to fill.

Recuperating from an injury and floundering without her music, Bree finds herself drawn to Diana. Diana and Pam have been together for years. They have a kind of happiness that Bree has been missing. Without her music, a confused Bree decides that having Diana will fill her life with the love she has missed. And she will risk everything to have that happiness.

Told in a series of flashbacks; Maybe Next Time is not a light read. The journey of Bree's redemption is a painful one. She must face her own arrogance and mistakes. However, it is a rich story with complex characters struggling with their faults and weaknesses as well as several charming moments. Kallmaker reminds readers what it was like to be a sixteen-year old girl in 1976 and realize that you're in love with another girl. It was a time and place far away from the Pride Parades of San Francisco, let alone the relative freedom of the 21st century.

Kallmaker depicts respectful insights into Polynesian culture. Perhaps one of the most touching moments in Bree's childhood is when Lani takes her to a native Hawaiian celebration. Young Bree is blessed by a gentle singer and finds the voice of music again. From this moment it becomes clear to Lani that her newly adopted daughter must have music in her life. Lani will make certain that Bree gets musical training.

Even with the angst there are signature Kallmaker elements. The erotic energy between Bree and Jorie is electric and evolves throughout the novel. Kallmaker's wit enlivens the book. There are delightful moments such as Bree's first opportunity to play an 18th century Guarneri violin. Or the poker night when Diana and company create new group terms including, "A clench of clits" and "a lick of lesbians!" (186)

No "formula" romance, Maybe Next Time is an engrossing, compelling story of redemption, healing and surviving. Kallmaker has explored complicated themes and done so with heart and a touch of humor. In this reader's opinion, it is one of her best novels.

-MJ Lowe