Book Reviews: The Orphan Choir, The Marriage Act
Terri Schlichenmeyer, The Bookworm Sez

The Orphan Choir by Sophie Hannah
Picador, $25.00, 277 pages
Your neighbor loves heavy rock 'n' roll.
He has all the CDs of all the major metal bands. It’s impressive, really, the determination he used to find them, starting with the earliest and the heaviest. He listens to them every weekend. Over and over, loudly.
Which would be nice, except you hate heavy metal.
So, aside from buying a boxful of earplugs, what can you do about a noisy neighbor?  You could move, of course, but as you’ll see in The Orphan Choir by Sophie Hannah, sometimes that doesn’t even help.

It didn’t happen every night—or every weekend, for that matter. But it happened often enough for Louise Beeston to become a bit unhinged over the loud music that her neighbor, Justin Clay, spewed from his stereo.
In the several times that Louise had complained, Clay was polite, but she could see that he was as annoyed at her as she was at him. Stuart, Louise’s husband, didn’t seem to be bothered by the din, so he was no help at all.  And though it pained Louise that he was gone, she considered it a minor blessing that her seven-year-old son Joseph was away at Saviour College on choir scholarship. He’d never have to endure the noise.
No, the cacophony irritated Louise the most and it only got worse. Not only did Clay start blasting music more frequently, but he upped the battle by playing choir music: the kind that Joseph sang at Saviour College!  Clay must’ve known how Louise was suffering over Joseph’s absence. It was surely some sort of torture.
To escape this awful neighbor, Louise convinced Stuart that they needed a second home in an exclusive enclave where privacy, neatness, and silence were valued above all. It would be a lovely weekend retreat for their family, a perfect spot to bring Joseph when he was on holiday. It would be quiet.
But then, Louise started hearing the choir again. She began to think that maybe the singing was all in her head. It got louder when she thought about Joseph’s choir director, whom she hated.
It started following her when she was outside, in the nearby forest.
It got terrifying when she began to see faces…
Every now and then, having a little scare is good but you don’t want it to keep you up all night. That’s when you want The Orphan Choir at your bedside.
Is Louise insane? That’s what author Sophie Hannah spurs her readers to ask, and it’s a valid question. Through pages and pages of fussiness, we’re shown that Louise is fretful and difficult, prone to excitability and bordering on hysterical (in a bad way). She’s not someone you’d want to know; in fact, eventually, you’ll want to roll your eyes at cranky Louise—which is about when Hannah cranks up the suspense.
Though I thought this book was overly-wordy at times, its gentle shivers make it worth a peek if you want something Scary Lite.  Read The Orphan Train, and the only sound you’ll hear is “Eeeeeeeeek.” 

The Marriage Act: The Risk I Took to Keep My Best Friend in America, and What It Taught Us About Love by Liza Monroy
Soft Skull Press, $16.95, 320 pages
The room was crowded, filled with only two people.
At least that’s what it seemed as the groom looked at his beloved—there was no one else in the room but them. You could see it on their faces, the way their eyes danced together, alone in a sea of well-wishers, seeing only one another.
So what makes a marriage work? Is it effort, honesty, trust, acceptance, love?  Or, as in the new book The Marriage Act by Liza Monroy, should you strive to marry your best friend—even if it’s illegal?
Throughout her life, Liza Monroy says there’ve been three important men: her father; her boyfriend, Julian; and her best friend, Emir. She’d barely seen her father since she was six years old, following her parents’ divorce. Julian was in Manhattan, far from Monroy’s L.A. home and, though they were engaged, their relationship was rocky. Emir, however, was nearby—just three blocks away—and Monroy saw him whenever she needed him.
She needed Emir a lot.
They met in college. He was in the U.S. on a student visa, from a country Monroy calls Emirstan. She’d been running from her mother’s influence. He was gay. She is not. They became fast friends. And in the weeks following September 11, 2001, when just being Middle Eastern was cause for suspicion, Emir’s visa was about to expire.
By that time, Monroy’s engagement had fallen apart. She was afraid of love, but more terrified of being alone. She asked Emir to marry her, which seemed like a great solution: Emirstan was intolerant of gay men and deportation was dangerous. Marrying her gay best friend would allow Monroy to practice at marriage. Never mind that the Immigration and Naturalization Service disallowed marriage for a green card’s sake and Monroy’s mother was an INS agent.
But what, exactly, makes a marriage?  What characterizes it?  If it’s love, then Monroy and Emir had that. If it’s needing one another, they had that, too. Did marriage have to be about sex and babies, or is it possible to redefine it?
The Marriage Act should be a good book. Surely, it’s unique enough since it chronicles a gutsy, illegal act that, accidentally, turned out well for all concerned.
It should be good—and it is. Just not as much as I’d hoped.
With angst that would make Woody Allen proud and a near-inability to keep secrets, author Liza Monroy writes of stress, misgivings and sabotaging plans to keep her gay best friend stateside. That would be tolerable, perhaps even madcap, if it wasn’t so repetitive and fussy. Add in many blame-the-parents passages and a falls-flat attempt at humor within a lack of culpability; mix in occasional, bumbling sweetness and not-so-subtle lessons, and you’ve got a memoir that’s, well, passably okay.
I think this book is worth a look-see. If you want to read an unusual story and you can handle the irritations, you might like it. If you’re looking for something a little slicker, though, The Marriage Act is an I do… NOT. 

 «  Return to previous page
 »  Send to a friend
Subscribe to channel

Leave a comment:

· Subscribe to comments
Be the first to comment here.