Look at this book’s cover, as the woman walks out on the stage and sees the waterfalls before her, this is a perfect metaphor for the stage fright that grips Nora Costello when she sings, especially when her dismissive parents are in the audience. Imagine what singing is like for an artist, it is the air they breathe and the thrum of their soul, but imagine how it would be to recapture your flagging confidence in the presence of parents who disapprove of the theater as a career, particularly after one of your staunchest supporters, your brother Liam, dies in the Vietnam War dashing your father’s hopes of another brilliant doctor in the family. The Voice I Just Heard by Susan Dormady Eisenberg is an operatic debut of epic proportions, with a story that takes readers behind the scenes of theater and opera through an emotional journey of losing a brother at one of the most controversial times in U.S. history — the Vietnam War.
“As Liam and I stood elbow to elbow at the fence, he said, ‘I should’ve memorized the whole poem, but I only recall the first four lines and the last four.’ His expression turned solemn. ‘Here’s how it ends. “Oh may my falls be bright as thine, may heaven’s forgiving rainbow shine, upon the mist that circles me, as soft as now it hangs o’er thee.”‘
‘That’s sweet,’ I said. ‘But what does it mean?’
‘I asked Sister Perpetua. She said we have the power of the falls in each of us. When we screw up, heaven sends us a rainbow to tell us we’re forgiven.’ He shrugged. ‘It’s weird. I’ve come here three times and never seen a rainbow, so I wonder if Moore made it up.’” (page 152)
Eisenberg, who has written profiles of singers, actors, and more, deftly weaves in the story of Liam and Nora’s childhood and the pressures they faced to be perfect for their upper crust parents — even if that meant tamping down their desires for a new direction and passion — with the present day family dynamics of losing a son to war. Nora is set adrift without the anchoring relationship of her brother, who in a way was her buffer between her passions and dreams and her parents’ disapproval. Her father is stoic in his response to his child’s death, and her mother withdraws from everything. Eisenberg’s prose brings to life the grief of these characters as the mother goes to mass daily, the father buries himself in work, and Nora seeks solace in the theater where she runs public relations for the summer showing of Annie Get Your Gun in Cohoes, N.Y., alongside her gay boss Graham Chase. A former mill town, Cohoes is a hot bed of hidden beauty in more ways than one, and it’s the perfect setting for two battered singers to meet — Nora Costello and Barton Wheeler, where they can come to terms with the right path for their artistry and their souls.
Eisenberg’s characters are deeply emotional, high strung, and respond before thinking, which gets them into a number of situations that can be misinterpreted and blown out of proportion, and in this way, her dramatic story resembles the missteps in Pride & Prejudice. Nora must learn to see the courage within herself, repair her relationships with her parents and childhood friend Liz, and determine what path is best for her without the influence of others. Bart, on the other hand, is balancing his true career with the need to support his two daughters from a previous marriage, while still holding onto the family business. When they come together sparks fly.
The Voice I Just Heard by Susan Dormady Eisenberg is about finding the confidence in oneself to reach out passionately for the life you want to lead and to never let go of it, not matter what the detractors say. Sage advice for any artist — whether singer or poet. Nora is spunky, head strong, and passionate, while Bart is more restrained (probably due to his age and life experiences), but he’s equally adrift as he’s lost confidence in his abilities and the right path for himself. From the stage in Cohoes to Washington, D.C., Nora and Bart grow into themselves and their voices — voices that are their own and remind them of where they belong. When overture sounds and the cast steps on the stage, the voices in this novel will sweep the reader away into a operatic crescendo like no other.
There is some strong sexual language in this book, so beware.
About the Author:
Susan Dormady Eisenberg is a writer based in Maryland. She has published articles in Opera News and Classical Singer (such as a November 2011 cover profile of baritone Robert Orth), as well as The Hartford Courant and The Albany Times Union. On February 3, 2012, she released her first novel, The Voice I Just Heard, as an indie ebook.
As a freelancer Susan has written promotional publications for clients throughout Greater D.C. Prior to launching her business, she did publicity for Goodspeed Opera House and Syracuse Stage, and marketing for the Joffrey Ballet/New York.
Please also check out my interview with her for the D.C. Literature Examiner.
This is my 61st book for the New Authors Reading Challenge 2012.