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The Song Beneath the Ice

by Joe Fiorito

Columnist Joe Fiorito, who received international acclaim for his family memoir, The Closer We Are to Dying, will probably receive further acclaim for his first novel, The Song Beneath the Ice. The novel’s roots lie in Fiorito’s love for classical music and in his experiences as a journalist in Iqaluit, on Baffin Island. An odd combination, but one that fuels an exceptionally interesting story of an acclaimed concert pianist who cuts short a performance of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” and then disappears from public and private view.

Dom Amoruso, dubbed the punk pianist because of his manner of dress and proletarian sympathies, lives in the shadow of Glenn Gould. Like Gould, he is a neurotic with extreme mood swings. A pill-popping insomniac, Amoruso nurses an obsession with Gould even as he scorns the man for his legendary quirks and meticulous but cold piano technique.

A year later, Joe Serafino, a freelance journalist and childhood friend of Amoruso’s, receives a package (postmarked Wolf Cove in the Northwest Territories) of Amoruso’s cassettes and notebooks. He slowly begins to piece together the mystery of his friend’s disappearance, setting his own notes and observations in italics and the descriptions of the tapes in brackets.

These narrative conventions establish an overall shape for this tale-within-a-tale in a striking postmodernist manner that manages to avoid the arcane, self-important tone that often bedevils the form. The main story – that of a man who challenges an aesthetic while his own talent disintegrates – is never displaced by the plethora of minutiae or the scrupulously documented recordings of various noises and conversations.

Fiorito’s keen sense of place (for example, a Vietnamese restaurant, a northern school, the frozen tundra) and character also help anchor the story in a compelling emotional and sensual realm. The language is clear, precise, and sensitive to nuances of feeling and thought.