Summer Symphony, Brandon Shire
Publisher: TPG Books
Genre: LGBT Fiction (B, G)
Tags: Contemporary, Age-Difference, Angst, Loss
Purchase At: amazon.com
Martin Zoric had vivid dreams of fatherhood, of a small hand pressed to his, of pink dresses and girlish laughter. Then his wife had a stillbirth and his world fell apart.
He listened to the unwanted apologies, stood by his wife as was expected of him, and kept his façade strong and firm for the entire world to see.
But does he have the strength let go and really grieve?
When Ren Wakahisa landed in Croatia he was hoping to escape the cultural pressures put on him to conform. His family wanted him to forsake love for duty. They viewed his happiness as secondary to familial prosperity.
Does he have the courage to be who he wants to be? Or, will he yield to their wishes?
Summer Symphony is the story of how two men find their answers and what they learn about strength, and grace, and the endurance of love.
I ended this book several hours ago and I am still somewhat at a loss over how to review it. I will say right off that this is a book that will affect me for a long time. It’s been awhile since I read a book that made me feel that way, so I hope you’ll bear with me through this review.
Also note that I tried to keep spoilers out but I seriously doubt I managed to do that completely. Keep that in mind before reading any further. The ending is not spoiled.
Martin Zoric, as the blurb states, is in mourning. He was an excited expectant father and was over the moon over the upcoming birth of his daughter, Marta. Then everything fell apart. Marta was stillborn.
His wife, Mirnela, also mourning the death of her child, was unable to break through the grief that Martin had immersed himself in. Until the death of his daughter, he was a relatively successful conductor in Croatia, having walked away from what could have been a lucrative musical career (for reasons described in the book). He did his job well and was married to a woman he loved and was excited about becoming a father.
I mentioned above that the book affected me. It affected me for a variety of reasons, but mainly because of the debilitating grief that Martin suffered throughout Summer Symphony. I don’t get too personal in my reviews or anywhere online. However, I was where Martin and Mirnela were. I know the grief. I know the pain. I know the awkwardness of loved ones who try their damndest to make you feel better, when in reality, their words mean nothing. Sure, they are appreciated, and you know they mean well, but no way in hell can anyone understand what it’s like to lose a child (before or after birth) unless they’ve lived it. The author wrote the grief so realistically that it will get to you and you will be emotional throughout as a result – the mourning, the loss, the way Martin and Mirnela drifted apart. The latter didn’t happen in my case (thank goodness) but I, looking back, can easily see how it could have.
Mirnela finally gets to a point where she can no longer deal with the way things are. She and Martin haven’t had sex in a year and she feels as if Martin blames her for the death of their baby girl. She leaves and Martin doesn’t try to stop her.
Martin’s position as a conductor is (and has been) in jeopardy because he no longer feels the music. Where others immerse themselves in it in order to get through crises, not Martin. He knows he’s failing but he can’t get beyond the pain, the loss.
Then there is Ren Wakahisa, a renowned Japanese pianist who will be performing under Martin for the summer, along with Martin’s orchestra. Ren, the only living son of a very traditional woman, is expected to marry and have a child to carry on the family name. At twenty-three, he is considered the head of the family over his mother and his thirteen-year-old sister, Emi. Ren is gay and knows that no way will he be marrying a woman and producing heirs. His mother is aware of his sexuality, even if she refuses to acknowledge it. She uses shame and hateful words to have Ren in constant emotional turmoil. He accepts the position to play under Martin for the summer to get away from his controlling mother and to figure out (during his time away) how to tell her that under no circumstances will he be following tradition.
Martin, forty-seven, is bisexual. This was not a secret with his wife. I will say that I kind of ended this at a loss over Martin and Mirnela’s relationship. Don’t get me wrong, her past and his were explained perfectly, but it was the actual marriage and relationship that confused me. This didn’t take away from the story for me, but it did kind of leave me feeling a bit lost toward the end. Also, while I understood Mirnela in a sense, I can’t say I liked her much. I felt sympathy for her and not just over the loss of her child. She had a horrible upbringing and suffered things in her life that no one should be forced to suffer. But there is a meeting between her and Ren at one point in the book that had me shaking my head. Toward the end, it made a bit more sense, but that particular meeting left me with not a whole lot of love for her as a character. Others may feel differently.
Martin has lost all will to keep going with his music. He’s doing a bad job conducting and it is obvious to all those under him that he’s falling apart. There are those ready for him to fail so they can jump in and take his place. Bringing Ren to Croatia can make or break Martin’s career. But the question is – does he want to keep doing something he no longer has passion for, or does he keep going as others watch him fall apart before their eyes? Then he meets Ren.
Ren, as mentioned above, is running from his own problems. Croatia was supposed to be his way of escaping tradition and his obligations for a little while longer. Playing under Martin for the first time shows him that he may have made a big mistake. This is the great Martin Zoric? He may be there in body but he’s definitely not there in any other way. There’s a bit of a confrontation between the two men and this brings Martin out of his shell somewhat. The grief hasn’t gone away (far from it), but he and Ren develop something with their music that shows Martin that yes, he is capable of moving on a little after the death of his daughter. There is a summer romance between them, though you can’t really call it romance. It is, as the title states, a summer symphony.
There is so much more I can say about this book, but I refuse to give too much away. There are other characters who are very important to the story (Filipa, Martin’s mother and late brother, Ren’s mother and sister), but I chose not to elaborate on them because doing so would give too much of the story away. I will say this – don’t go into this book expecting the next great love story. It’s not. Far from it. The author stated to me that this novel is not mm romance. If you go into it expecting one, you’ll be sorely disappointed. This is a story about grief, about trying to move on. It’s about working your way from pain so severe that it alienates those you love and affects every single aspect of your life. I’ve been there. I understand it.
I want to say I was surprised over the way everything came together in this book (no, I won’t give it away), but that would be a lie. Every single line written up to that point led to the resolution. I should have seen it coming from the very first page. Unfortunately, I didn’t. Looking back, sure. It was all there in front of me in black and white.
Brandon Shire is a brilliant storyteller and Summer Symphony proves this. This is not going to be for everybody, but it’s an outstanding work of fiction. If you’re willing to put aside expectations of what you hope will happen and accept what you know is probably going to happen, you will thoroughly enjoy this book. My apologies for being cryptic, but I refuse to give away the ending of this book. If you want a spoiler, by all means, contact me privately via this site or on Goodreads. If you’ve read the book (or haven’t, but know the ending), please don’t post it as a public comment on this review.
Overall, an outstanding book. I went into it knowing it would cause me to shed a tear or two, but I never could have imagined the way I’d still feel hours after finishing it.
The cover is beautiful, and perfect for the story.
This book was provided by the author in exchange for a fair and honest review.