What Could Be Saved: Bookmatched Novellas & Stories
by Gregory Spatz
“This collection is magical, hypnotic, brilliant.” — Paul Harding, Pulitzer Prize winning author of Tinkers.
Going where most readers have never been — past the workshop door, behind the curtain to the hidden rehearsal space, and into the back room of a pawn shop or dealer’s office, Gregory Spatz’s new book delves deeply into the world of those who build, play, and sell (or steal) violins. This is a realm of obsession, of high-stakes sales and thefts, and of rapturous but also desperate performance escapades. Dense with detail, and peopled with a fabulously particular (yes, eccentric) ensemble cast, the linked pieces in What Could Be Saved—two of novella length, and two stories—have the intense force and beauty of chamber music.
At the heart of What Could Be Saved is the culture of the violin world—its beauty, myth-making, magic, romance and deceit, as well as its history and ethos of perfection at any cost. In stories and novellas matched end-to-end like the twinned or “bookmatched” pieces of tonewood that separately comprise a violin, What Could Be Saved winds its way through the hopes and dreams of builders, dealers and players caught up in the violin trade, a trade that is so unlike any other in the world.
From the story of a young man who refuses to follow in his father’s footsteps as a violin builder, to the magical realism of the story told in the point of view of forgotten, abused and ordinary violins, What Could Be Saved transports you into the world of the violin, compelling you to witness its most tragic, comic and thoroughly human dramas.
Blending viewpoints and storytelling techniques, including magical and psychological realism, moving from novella to story and back again, there is a sustained musicality that thrums through these beautiful, almost dream-like tales. Spatz’s language is precise and powerful, his fiction elegantly wrought. A book that echoes long after its music ends.
Gregory Spatz is the author of the novels INUKSHUK, FIDDLER’S DREAM and NO ONE BUT US, and of the story collections HALF AS HAPPY and WONDERFUL TRICKS. His stories have appeared in many publications, including The New Yorker, Glimmer Train Stories, Shenandoah, Epoch, Kenyon Review and New England Review. The recipient of a Michener Fellowship, an Iowa Arts Fellowship, a Washington State Book Award, and an NEA Fellowship in literature, he teaches at Eastern Washington University in Spokane. Spatz plays the fiddle in the twice Juno-nominated bluegrass band John Reischman and the Jaybirds.
“What Could Be Saved initiates the reader into the mysteries of a secret society of artists and artisans, thieves and treasure hunters, forgers and true believers, all of whom idolize the nearly supernatural powers and traditions of the violin. Those old, priceless instruments are like keys that unlock the quintessence of music and beauty, but they are also ‘the devil’s box,’ just as often counterfeits that sow delusion and disenchantment as they pass from acolyte to acolyte – player to player, luthier to luthier – through the centuries. Gregory Spatz has conjoined these stories into a masterly quartet that casts the same spell on the reader as on its characters. This collection is magical, hypnotic, brilliant.” — Paul Harding, musician and author of Pulitzer Prize winning Tinkers
“If good fiction is a bringing of the news from one world to another, then Gregory Spatz, with this radiant book, is bringing us news of the violin, giving voice to its makers, its players, and even the instrument itself. What a rare gift it is to be immersed in this world and emerge from it changed, with not only a richer understanding of music and those who make it, but a whole new way of listening.” — Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, author of Madeleine is Sleeping and Ms. Hempel Chronicles
“Intricate and formally daring, Gregory Spatz’s What Could Be Saved unshrouds the secret lives of high-end violins and their dedicated and impassioned makers. With their loves, losses, and obsessions spanning generations, we can’t help but root for these perfectionists in an imperfect world. Like the venerable instrument at the center of these linked tales, Spatz’s prose produces a beautiful tone.” —Leland Cheuk, author of The Misadventures of Sulliver Pong
“A subtle, fascinating collection of exquisite and painstaking attention about, in many respects, exquisite and painstaking attention. I love how the story of each violin made or restored here, each relationship cultivated or lie told, is so beautifully, elegantly dense with the projections of the people implicated. I love too that Gregory Spatz reveals most of these people to be unexpectedly good and interesting, without becoming sentimental, and without sacrificing acknowledgment of a full spectrum of human behavior. In Gregory Spatz’s What Could Be Saved, the violin—in the most unexpected landscape for so old and storied an instrument—is a magnificent container for and mirror of the best and worst of humanity; is a vehicle for our greatest capacities for the eternal verities, and a currency of deception and evil. This book is a new favorite.” — Bonnie Nadzam, author of Lamb and Lions
“The novellas and stories of Gregory Spatz’s What Could Be Saved teem with notes of human discord and connectivity, a constant surge of dissonance and melody, crushing a concert in your head of subtle, tortured character, of lyrical language languishing in the ear, of sadness and triumph wringing your heart. This tightly woven series of connected tales reminds us of what good literary writing is for, and why it will never fade out of tune.” —Jamie Iredell, author of The Fat Kid
“What Could Be Saved is a vivid, engrossing portrait of luthiers and musicians, of fathers and sons, and of family lore fueling life-long obsessions. Gregory Spatz has written a love letter to both violins and to the artists and craftsmen whose lives, however briefly, intersect with them. Above all, these perfectly tuned stories convey the pathos of inheritance: the difference between what we think we’re leaving behind, and what’s actually left.” —Alexis Smith, author of Glaciers and Marrow Island