A successful pianist with a wife and child becomes psychologically disturbed by hallucinations that lead him to look back on his adolescence in the Netherlands, particularly the nature of his close friendship with an actor who now lives in the United States.
Rubin writes with grace and exactitude, giving a tangible, animated quality to the sensual world of his story. We can almost hear those piano keys ... Dirk himself, though at first a cliche of the charismatic, irreverent teen rebel, becomes utterly convincing—most of all through his voice, which is crystal clear and rich in humour ... The Dutch landscape is also sharply observed with precise, passing detail, the cobbled roads and tall houses set close to the street, and foods such as chocolate-covered stroopwafels ... Both tender and truthful in its evoking of the canyon that lies between the openness of youth and the dangerous restraint of middle age, this is a luminous, quiet storm of a novel that resounds long after its heartbreaking coda.
The story flows easily from thriller (psychological antagonism), to crime drama (will one of them kill the other?), bildungsroman (boisterous boyhood drifting into unsettled manhood), existentialist musing (alienated men not understanding anything, least of all women), to a tale of infinite regret. And it achieves all this without losing its internal unity, suggesting possible outcomes while concluding in a way that throws the story wide open again ... It is polished and sophisticated, undercut with sufficiently troubling undercurrents to make it more than merely decorative or forgettable ... Unfortunately, the novel can tend toward the logical, even clinical. The plot can feel too neat as it unfolds over the years, with its episodes somewhat schematic ... One thing follows the other as tick follows tock: one never has the impression Jan as narrator, or Rubin as author, will stop and double back, or go deeper when it might seem out of place but nonetheless fascinating.
Cultural historian Eric Beck Rubin’s debut novel is an elegant synaesthetic tale in which memories of past loves and lost innocence are narrated alongside soundscapes of [protagonist Jan] de Vries’s musical repertoire. The title, we learn, refers to a piano training score by 19th-century Austrian composer Carl Czerny, whose experiments in tempo reflect the movement of Rubin’s book as it hurtles towards its bittersweet ending. De Vries’s final confrontation with Dirk is a tragic, Gatsby-like meditation on the impossibility of reliving the past, however much we cling to our memories.