About the arts and ideas - on my novels and literature, music, and art

A new book about Beethoven gathers together (and completely rewrites and supplements) my blog posts on Beethoven into a short introduction to the composer, Ways of Hearing Beethoven, which I hope to see published. My novel The Fall of the Berlin Wall, completed a year ago, is about musicians and particularly the intense, irrepressible daughter of the legendary pianist featured in my previous novel Hungry Generations, now fifteen years after those events. Five years ago, my 2015 novel, The Ash Tree, was published by West of West Books in conjunction with the April 24, 2015 centenary of the Armenian genocide; it's about an Armenian-American family and the sweep of their history in the twentieth century - particularly from the points of view of two women in the family.
There are three other novels of mine, which I would love to see published. One is Pathological States, about a physician's family in L.A. in 1962. Another is Hungry Generations, about a young composer's friendship in L.A. with the family of a virtuoso pianist, published on demand by iUniverse, which I think would be of value to a conventional publisher. A Burnt Offering - a fable (a full rewriting and expansion of my earlier Acts of Terror and Contrition - a nuclear fable) is my political novella about Israel and its reactions to the possibility of a war with Iran (with the fear that it will be a nuclear war).
[My blog posts are, of course, copyrighted.]

Sunday, December 16, 2018

"The Fall of the Berlin Wall - a novel" now completed - and circulating

My now completed but unpublished novel “The Fall of the Berlin Wall” is about the musicians who appeared in my earlier novel “Hungry Generations” plus their families and friends – but now more than a decade and a half later. (In fact, the earlier novel - from iUniverse in 2004 - could logically and easily be published with "The Fall" as an 'origin story' or prequel.)

Jack Weinstein is now a successful composer, known for the symphonic “Hostage Music” commemorating the 1980 Iran hostage crisis. He is married to Sarah, the intense and irrepressible daughter of the late legendary Alexander Petrov. It is 1989 in Cleveland, where Jack is a college professor, and in late November, the couple’s marriage is collapsing. Jack and Sarah are visited during Thanksgiving week by her brother, Joseph Petrov, who is Jack’s closest friend and the hugely talented pianist son of Alexander. The week’s events are told by this trio of characters, and much of the novel revolves around Sarah – her suffering, her stinging repartee, and the friendships she forms and betrays.

Friendship itself is a force in the lives of these characters, its potential success or failure for her and Jack, for the two brothers-in-law, and for the group surrounding the three characters. Also, there is the surprising bonus of the magnificent music played and imagined here, including Jack’s plans for a work responding to the fall of the Berlin Wall. The idea that long-standing barriers can collapse infuses the partly Dostoyevskyan novel, its vision of politics, of music, and of the human beings brought to life in this poignant, tragicomic work. At the end of the short novel are six ‘origin’ stories evoking what has been at stake in the rich and startling past of many of the characters.

 Here's a synopsis of the work:

The Fall of the Berlin Wall – a novel with stories
Daniel Melnick (216-378-9302; danielcmelnick@gmail.com)

Two events in November 1989 mark the lives of the novel’s characters. One is the death of a woman discovered naked in the snow during a massive storm buffeting Cleveland on Thanksgiving. The other is the fall, two weeks earlier, of the Berlin Wall, and that upturning of the old order corresponds to a desire completely to change their lives for the characters.

Jack Weinstein wants to save his marriage to Sarah, the intense daughter of the late legendary pianist Alexander Petrov. He tries to confront her dissatisfaction and her shifting allegiances – whether to him, to her lover Dima, to her brother Joseph, or to her own unstable self. Sarah and Jack are in their forties and have a nearly sixteen-year-old daughter, Sue, who struggles in her own right.

Sarah’s brother, Joseph, is visiting this Thanksgiving week. He finds himself in the middle of the couple’s conflicts, and his role is made more difficult by the deep allegiance he feels to both his sister and his brother-in-law. The week’s events are told by this trio of characters. Joseph and Jack are musicians. Joseph Petrov is, like his late father, a brilliant piano virtuoso, and Jack is a classical composer; one of his compositions has just been nominated for a Grammy in contemporary classical music.

The Weinsteins’ friends have their own turbulence. And friendship – both healing and broken – becomes an issue in their lives. The Blacks, who live around the corner, are about to declare bankruptcy, for Jacob has been denied tenure and become a ‘freeway professor,’ teaching one class here, another there. The Sinclairs are mutual friends, and especially Robert Sinclair becomes the target of Jacob’s bitterness about his life.

One of the Weinsteins’ best friends is an artist and a bohemian of sorts, Tom Mubar, who is divorced and shares custody of his seventeen-year-old son, Paul. When Sarah’s affair with Dima collapses, she is drawn to Tom, who will understand – she believes – what a disaster her life has become. He has his hands full with his own urgent problems, and does not reciprocate her feelings.

Everything comes to a head when the Weinsteins celebrate Thanksgiving with their friends and Joseph. At dinner, disastrous confrontations erupt from the tensions brewing all week, and Sarah, already depressed and disoriented, plummets into potentially suicidal despair.

“The Fall of the Berlin Wall” is a poignant, tragicomic portrait of a marriage in trouble, of confusions in love and friendship, and of what may endure our collisions – whether it be love, art and music, or simply the flux and welter of our conflicting passions and needs. The short novel is followed by six stories evoking the rich and startling past of several of these characters.

(Altogether, the work is 174 pages, about 51,000 words.)

Thursday, October 25, 2018

a new novel: The Fall of the Berlin Wall

I'm currently working on a new novel, which is about three-quarters finished. It is tentatively titled "The Fall of the Berlin Wall" and takes place in Thanksgiving week after that November 9th, 1989, event, and it imagines what happened to the characters from my 2004 novel "Hungry Generations," which was set in 1972-3. A synopsis will be posted on this blog in a few weeks, once I've completed the novel.

Many elements, though, are clear. The children of the late virtuoso pianist Alexander Petrov return. Sarah is married to Jack Weinstein, a composer, who was the focus of the earlier novel, and they have moved to Cleveland where he teaches at his alma mater, the Institute of Music there. After sixteen years the marriage is now troubled. Sarah's brother, Joseph, is visiting them for the week. Having recently reread Dostoyevsky's "The Idiot" again, I couldn't resist writing a series of dramatic parties into the novel with the accompanying turbulent confrontations; also, my characters are not wholly unrelated to Myshkin, Rogoshin, and particularly Nastasya. Finally, characters from several of my other fictions were made to live in Cleveland, and in the new novel, they become significant - Rachel and Jacob Black, Tom Mubar, May and Robert Sinclair, Vladimir Kline, and Juliet and Sammy Weisberg. So "The Fall of the Berlin Wall" is, in part, a Cleveland novel.

There's plenty of music in the novel, as well. However, whereas the music in "Hungry Generations" became part of the experimental form of that novel, it's presented much more straightforwardly in the new work. Here's the opening:


Friday, November 24, 1989

           It was the wind that made it worse. Twigs were carried in the air, and dead leaves flew by. On Thanksgiving yesterday, the black clouds of a huge arctic storm had dropped from the north like a giant descending on the city, a massive primordial force obliterating everything that was familiar, felling trees, and dropping a foot of snow on the Heights. And now this morning, the wind kept blowing more snow east into Cleveland Heights with its the hilly neighborhoods, the first foothills of the Appalachians. Its houses, built in the first decades of the twentieth century, were porous to the raging winds. The old double-glazed windows rattled violently. The storm blew wires down and pilot lights out, and with few exceptions, there was no heat or light for blocks on end.
           When Jacob Black’s heater went out this morning, he descended the stairs to the darkened basement to inspect the pilot light. When he directed a flashlight into it, he saw there was no way he could relight it, for without electricity, the newly installed heater refused to start. So much refused to work in this old house – and in his shithole of a life, as well. A stream of unspoken obscenity-filled his mind as he trudged back up the stairs. Rachel and little Mikey waited at the top. When she heard what the situation was, she picked up the kitchen phone. It still worked, and she called Sarah and Jack, who lived up the block.
           “Yes to both questions,” Jack answered. “We have electricity, and come on over. We’ll wait out the storm together. Sarah is still sleeping, but she’ll wake up soon.”
           So they put on their heaviest winter coats, boots, hats, and gloves as the wind buffeted the windows and pressed in on the house. Rachel carried a packed purse, Jacob a valise with a shoulder strap, and four-year-old Mikey his favorite brown bear with its button eyes, in a plastic bag. Together they stepped onto the porch. The wind temporarily paralyzed them, and its bursting intermittent hum poured from the sky. It had begun yesterday on Thanksgiving and had not relented. Holding onto his son’s hand and gripping his wife’s arm, Jacob inched forward down the porch steps and into the blasting snow. In the driveway, their boots sank in the snow drifts. Small branches flew by, disintegrating in flight.
           “I’ll carry you,” Joseph said and lifted the boy onto his shoulders.
“It’s so cold,” Mikey said.
           “We’ll be there soon,” Rachel said.
           “I’m scared.”
           They trudged slowly through the snow banks for half a block, could hardly see through the white-out of blowing snow, and finally came to the wooded, untamed lot edging Jack Weinstein’s property. Barely visible next to the lot was his big home on the corner with its snowy stairs and the inundated porch.
           In the thick woods a few yards away, there seemed to be a partially buried, snow-covered deer or other animal, and Rachel stopped to stare at the curious sight. Jacob, with Mikey on his back, continued to Jack’s house and stairs.

           She carefully stepped off the sidewalk, walked through snow to the frozen form, and began to reach toward it. She suddenly recognized the snow-encrusted naked woman, and she suppressed a scream.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

A Burnt offering - a nuclear fable about Israel and Iran

I've radically reconceived and expanded a novel about Israel to focus on the threat of a nuclear exchange with Iran (the work before this revision was short and outdated). Now taking place in the present, it involves the dangerous Israeli relationship with Iran - and also the psyche and complex identity of Israel and of an Israeli family. Here is a brief synopsis of the much expanded and updated novel now available from Amazon - https://amzn.to/2ZTHaRg:

A Burnt Offering – a fable
Daniel C. Melnick – 25805 Fairmount Blvd. Apt 303, Beachwood, Ohio 44122.
(216) 376-2649 danielcmelnick@gmail.com

This compelling and thought-provoking novel unites a version of the biblical fable, the Sacrifice of Isaac, with a tale about Israeli Intelligence when the country seems on the verge of being attacked by nuclear-armed Iranian missiles. Ari Schneider, the head of Special Operations, believes that he must act, even if as a maverick, to warn world leaders that they must act to stop the movement toward nuclear war. He discloses to them that his operatives in foreign capitals have received weapons of warning which he alone knows how to recall – ‘small’ tactical nuclear bombs from the Israeli arsenal.

His father, Rami, a retired diplomat and elderly survivor of the Holocaust, struggles to confront and intercede in Ari’s actions. There is also a clandestine group of Palestinians whose leader plots to assault an Israeli installation in Jerusalem. And finally, in this moral fable, there is the Schneiders’ adolescent son, Moshe, who courageously confronts his father with knowledge he has gleaned from his scientist cousin in America about the horror of nuclear war. The unfolding fable advances in tandem with Ari’s undercover operations to create a unique and disturbing short novel.

As the action of the ‘special operation’ heightens, the parable becomes more terrifying and develops in mystery, complexity, and tragic intensity. In a series of confrontations with his wife, daughter, son, and his father, Rami, Ari still resists despite the tension of self-doubt in him, and in the climactic encounter between father and son, Rami argues that the ages-old struggle marking the past of the Jews must also mark their future, and that nuclear weapons can never be used in a just cause. Ari holds fast, and in an ultimate attack on his son, echoing the Sacrifice of Isaac, Rami compels himself to tell Ari something about his origins that invalidates all his assumptions about his identity. The double bind of his fate collapses in on him, and with nothing more to hold him up, he suffers a suicidal breakdown.

Rami’s final monologue reveals his lie to his son. The old man is harrowed by the responsibility of how to act for peace in a world of extreme and pervasive violence; such are the conditions that Ari tried to face with his desperate acts and which now the world at large confronts. 

[The nuclear fable is approximately 190 pages long – about 47,000 words.] Available: https://amzn.to/2ZTHaRg 

Monday, June 11, 2018

New opening for "Pathological States"

The first two chapters of "Pathological States - a novel" are now published as the ending of "A Burnt Offering - a fable" - titled "Dr. Morris Weisberg - an introduction" - here's the cover from Amazon.com:
Prologue for "Pathological States - a novel"
           The best way to put yourself in a novel, an old friend once told me, is to leave yourself out. Not only have I removed myself here, but this prologue also leaves out my protagonist, spry but aging as he is, Dr. Morris Weisberg, pathologist and sometime Chief of Laboratory. Here, instead, you are to meet an antagonist, Dr. Bill Smith, who will appear later but significantly at the Montecito Veterans Hospital, located on the northern rim of Los Angeles in the desiccated hills some miles from suburban Northridge. Of course, these designations – hero or antagonist – are provisional, even questionable, and you must exercise your inalienable right as reader to revise and even to reverse them. For example, it would be possible to present Dr. Smith as a great wielder of knife and scalpel, a slayer of disease, a marbled figure of power and grandeur.
           In the event, however, the surgeon seemed perfectly ordinary: not too short, nor too tall, and not too fat, though with a round face which was sometimes clouded, for his mouth could appear disapproving, and his brown eyes were somewhat assessive behind corrective lenses. On this June morning, dressed in his surgical garb, he wiggled his stiff fingers into latex gloves and felt how recalcitrant they were as he forced them in. Last night had been what he called a long, hard night, but let bygones be bygones, he thought. Smiling and a bit bleary, he strode confidently into the brightly lit surgical theater. He would perform an exploratory, which he invariably enjoyed.
           The poor girl was dying, but now prepped and anesthetized, she was stretched out on the operating table.
           “Good morning, Dr. Smith,” the nurses and the new anesthesiologist, Dr. Maury, said – he was a handsome man; swarthy was the term. The line of his strong neck led down to broad shoulders and what looked to be a lean, fine physique. Dr. Maury smiled politely at him, and Dr. Smith immediately turned to look at what was on the menu today.
           The skin of the abdomen was bared before him as he picked up the scalpel with his stiffened fingers. Perhaps he would give her a few months more of life, he thought as he automatically cut through flesh, fat, and muscle. His nurse placed clamps and a drain so no blood welled in the cavity. At its bottom, there it was, the pancreas riddled with cancer. Searching for spreading metastases in liver and spleen, his rough fingers pushed the pancreas aside.
           The heart monitor began irregularly to beep, and it stopped.
           “Dr. Smith, her heart has…”
           A slight tremor convulsed the body on the table, and Dr. Smith pulled his bloody gloved hands away.
           “Adrenaline. Syringe,” he said as he glanced about, numb and unsteady. Dr. Maury was staring alarmed at him.
           He plunged the needle into the heart. Immediately, he knew it had missed its target, and he lifted, shifted, and plunged it once more into the chamber of the heart.

The novel is a fictionalized memoir about my family, with names changed. My late parents were secular Jews and devoted to classical music. Of my two (retired) brothers, one is a photographer, and the other is a poet. Something like the novel’s disaster at work and desperation at home did descend on the family around the year 1962, though at the time I was away from home as a freshman in college. The four family member take up the telling of the chapters, though I do record and comment in the telling. For the most part, then, I leave myself out of the tale – which may be the best way to put yourself in, as I mention a novelist friend of mine told me.

Here’s a brief summary of the novel:   It is the year of the Cuban Missile Crisis and Cold War hydrogen bomb testing. Dr. Morris Weisberg studies the effects of nuclear radiation and the causes of cancer, and he, his wife, and their turbulent sons live in suburban Los Angeles. Each family member strives to find some pleasure and affirmation, whether in science, art, sex or music, as they face the distortion and emptiness beneath the surface beauty of California life. Dr. Weisberg is Chief of Laboratory at the Montecito Veterans Hospital, where a surgeon causes a death during an operation. When Morris discovers the truth, his Hospital Director tries to cover up the malpractice. Crises descend, then, at work as well as in the family.

The novel is rich and compelling for its drama of emotional abuse and sexual awakening, its non-nostalgic view of L.A. in the sixties and of growing up as well as growing old there, and its picture of the explosion of American power in the Kennedy years. There are also the roles played by science and music in the life of Morris Weisberg, the sense of Jewish-American identity after the Holocaust, and finally the occasional humorous echo of Don Quixote.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

April 24, 1915: The Ash Tree imagines

103 years ago today, April 24th, the leaders of the Armenian community in Constantinople-now Istanbul-were arrested and then hanged or deported. So began the Armenian genocide in Turkey. Chapter 1 of "The Ash Tree-a novel" imagines what Armen Ararat witnessed on April 24, 1915.