Literature Week is an event occurring this week on my blog. Everyday, I will read a book considered to be a "great" classic and review it.
For my fifth book, I read The Piano Lesson by August Wilson.
Set in 1936, The Piano Lesson is a powerful new play from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Fences and Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. A sister and brother fight over a piano that has been in the family for three generations, creating a remarkable drama that embodies the painful past and expectant future of black Americans.
The Piano Lesson is the winner of the 1990 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. So apparently, somebody thinks it's a work of genius, an important contribution to literature. The back blurbs run the gamut of compliments from prestigious critics like the New York Times and The Washington Post, who have declared this play to be "lyrical," and "ebullient". What worries me is that these newspapers are supposedly harsh critics, and the Pulitzer Prize, I'm told, is pretty darn selective, but I can't say I'm very impressed by this play. I feel like I missed something--some secret, critical part of the book that was the "wow" factor that would've made me love it. Maybe I did. But as it stands right now, The Piano Lesson is dull. Very dull. Thin. Boring. All of the above. But thankfully, blissfully short.
What am I saying? I'm going against the Times and the Post and the sparkly, all-knowing Pulitzer? I should be writing a glowing review right now, shouldn't I?
Well, I just can't.
The Piano Lesson centers around piano of the Charles' family, which has engravings of scenes of their family and the faces of their relatives. For whatever reason, it lies neglected in Beatrice Charles house, and Boy Willie, Beatrice's never-do-well brother, formulates a scheme dependent on the piano. He plans to sell the piano off in order to help pay for the purchase of lands where their family had once toiled at as slaves, but Beatrice resists and the decision of whether to sell the piano creates much friction between the siblings. The lush history of their family is revealed, and the history behind both the piano, their ancestry, and their culture is also touched upon throughout the course of the play.
I'll be honest: the first ten pages were interesting, the last ten pages fraught with excitement and climax and action. But the middle was boring and rambly and held nothing to interest me. I nearly fell asleep reading it--and I know I was sleepy to begin with, but still. I have good attention span for reading most of the time; unfounded patience for the most egregious errors in writing and plot and character development--and I always finish a book no matter how much I hate it. But it was hard for me to finish The Piano Lesson. It was probably one of the quickest reads I've come across for literature, but it was hard for me to finish because my eyes were glazed over, my fingers cramped around it's thin spine, the lines blurred into a endless black hole of boredom. I'll summarize this play in one word: dullness.
I just didn't care about the characters, their conflict, or anything. I don't know if I'm right in my analysis, but The Piano Lesson did come across as a retelling of the Faustian Bargain to me--what with Boy Willie desperate to sell the piano for financial gain--in effect selling the soul of the family. But again, I could care less if the piano was sold, if anything happened to the characters. Perhaps it's because I didn't have enough of a time to get acquainted with them, but I just plain didn't care, at all. Such apathy with me towards a book is sort of shocking, so I guess this just proves that The Piano Lesson was lacking in many aspects.
Another thing is that I'm usually in love with any sort of history element in a book, but with The Piano Lesson, the history of the family and the piano bored me to tears. I have to wonder if it was just the day I read it or if I' d always be bored by reading it. I think a big part of the problem was the language Wilson chose--while realistic, I'll have to admit the short, ungrammatical sentences became tiring after a while. I had a hard time picturing the scenes, hearing the dialogue. The dialogue, the character's actions, pretty much everything just fell--flat.
All in all, I'd say that The Piano Lesson may be more enjoyable to others, more strident in it's literary merit. But I just couldn't get into it. I know it's bad when my favorite element in a book--in this case, the ghost that supposedly haunts the piano--only appears briefly once or twice in the whole work. I'm really struggling to find ways to praise this play. I'll just say that others may find the torment over the piano, the conflict between the siblings, the rich history of the family alluring, emotional and powerful. But I'd be lying if I said I did.
Teenage Ignoramus Comment:
Zzzzz. Boring, boring boring. Worse than my AP Bio class, and now that's something--really it is. Zzzz. Very good bedtime reading for insomniacs, if you're looking for something that will put you to sleep.
Rating on the Classics Scale: I'd give it a 4/10. There's nothing awful about this book, but I just don't understand why it's considered a work of genius. To me, it wasn't. I don't know why it's considered significant literature. It's just...okay, nothing magnificent or breakthtaking, like I'd expect a Pulitzer prize winner to be.
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