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Excerpt from Some Trick by Helen DeWitt, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Some Trick

Thirteen Stories

by Helen DeWitt

Some Trick by Helen DeWitt X
Some Trick by Helen DeWitt
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  • First Published:
    May 2018, 224 pages

    Paperback:
    Oct 2019, 208 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Butts
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Print Excerpt


- All the same, the Funeral March for a Dead Parrot

- No, not at all, that's precisely

- But many people

- Exactly

- But surely

- On the contrary

For the next thirty years Morhange was one of the most celebrated pianists in the world.

In 1975 he retired to Japan, & by coincidence took a house on the very island, in the very town where Mlle Matsumoto lived.

- Why Japan?

- Japan had fascinated me for a long time - the prints of Utamaro and Hokusai and Hiroshige - those remarkable little poems, the haiku - it is an art of subtraction, an art with a horror of the extraneous, but it's not so much that it has a horror of the extraneous as that it avoids histrionics, Western art gives the impression by contrast of being saturated with sincerity -

It was pointed out that his greatest triumphs had been with Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky -

- Yes, exactly, it's precisely for that reason that Japanese art really struck me. As a young man I had nothing but contempt for the Fossil, an old man who in the first place understood nothing of the works he pretended to teach, who was flattered by the deference he received from Mlle Matsumoto, something which a Japanese - and a young girl at that - accords so readily to a teacher. What I did not see at the time was that there was something genuine in her performance -

What happened you see was that, when I had spent many years in America, someone happened to play me a recording of Mlle Matsumoto playing Chopin's fourth Ballade. This was the very piece with which I had won the Prix d'Orphée. I was astonished by a performance which seemed to anticipate so much of the last twenty years, & in justice to myself I listened to the recording I myself had made at that time. I was filled with contempt. If Dela¬croix could have played the piano, this theatrical display is precisely what he would have produced -

Hearing Mlle Matsumoto's recording I now saw the quality I had been unable to see before, that she had escaped the fatal plunge into egotism which the idiocy of the Fossil forced upon all his pupils of any talent, & had extracted something better from within herself -

I finished my tour - I went to Tokyo - c'était affreux - I thought that the true Japan was elsewhere - I crossed the sea to Shikoku, an island with 88 Buddhist shrines - I had my Steinway brought from Paris, as well as an old pedalier which I had managed to pick up -

I discovered that it was here that Mlle Matsumoto still lived. I remembered my behavior & could not approach her.

For eight years I lived in this town without meeting her. I knew where she lived, for once walking I heard the fourth Ballade & there could not have been two to play it in such a place. Thereafter I avoided the street.

One day after walking in the country I came back & walked down her street - I heard the opening bars of Chopin's fourth Ballade in F minor. More than ever was I conscious that I had wronged her - I felt that I must apologize - in agony I walked up and down outside the door, waiting for her to finish - double octaves in the bass melted into the air in a legato of the most perfect unhurried simplicity - I saw suddenly an insuperable difficulty. It is regarded in Japan as a common politeness to take off the shoes on entering a house - but I have always been careless of clothes, I remembered suddenly that that morning I had not been able to find any socks, that I had put on a blue and a red, each with a large hole at the big toe - I could not appear to Mlle Matsumoto like this. Like a madman I ran through the streets of Tokushima, I found a shop, I bought a pair of socks, in my mind I heard the Ballade approaching the arpeggiated chords before the end, I flung down a few yen & ran off, I darted into the precincts of a nearby shrine - no one in sight - I took off my shoes & the old socks, bundled the latter into a pocket, put on the new, put on my shoes, dashed to the house of Mlle Matsumoto. She had come to the moment of stillness before the final explosion. It came to an end - gathering my courage I knocked - she came to the door - I must speak to you, I said, you must allow me to apologize - she gestured for me to enter - I removed my shoes & followed her - we entered the room with the piano - I stood before her, every word of Japanese left my head, I poured forth my reflections of a decade & when I paused she said

Excerpted from Some Trick by Helen deWitt. Copyright © 2018 by Helen deWitt. Excerpted by permission of New Directions Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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