Richard is a renowned concert pianist. His life has focused around practice and performance. He has single-mindedly chased the dream and attained it, but has become isolated from his family, including his wife and daughter. When he is diagnosed with ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), also known as motor neurone disease and Lou Gehrig’s disease, Richard is faced with the gradual paralysis of his body. After a period of denial he begins to accept his condition, but he struggles to relinquish control.
Richard’s estranged ex-wife, Karina, teaches classical piano from her home. When they met, they were both studying classical piano and Karina showed even more promise than Richard. She developed an interest in jazz and played with the best jazz musicians in New York. But her progress halted when they moved to Boston to enable Richard to pursue a career opportunity. Grace was born in Boston, and Karina raised their daughter while Richard toured the world. Karina keeps burying her dreams to take care of those around her. She isn’t happy. Regret follows her every step.
When Karina discovers Richard’s predicament, she cannot turn away from him, but her resentment simmers beneath the surface. As Richard gradually becomes paralysed and spends hours alone with his memories, Karina begins to face the fears that have immobilised her for the past twenty years.
Every Note Played is told in the third person, alternating between Richard and Karina’s viewpoints. The narrative is like a musical piece, where the right hand and the left hand play separate pieces that together create a complex moving melody telling the story of Richard’s illness and the history of their relationship.
The reader travels with Richard from the time he first noticed a change in his playing that indicated something was wrong, through each significant loss of ability, to his final breaths. It is a moving depiction of the lived experience of ALS, the sorrow of experiencing the incremental loss of function, and the challenges of facing impossible choices which have no easy answers.
Another theme is the rift between Richard and his family, especially Karina. Both have regrets and dealt with their disappointment differently. The impact of regret and the sweet reprieve of forgiveness are dealt with beautifully.
Every Note Played is a captivating bittersweet story which is beautifully written. Its notes linger in my mind and I am already tempted to pick it up and read it again.