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Reviewed by Jon Michael Miller for Readers' Favorite
When I finished reading The Music of Women which author Vincent Panettiere subtitles, “A Stream of Subconsciousness,” I felt as I did after my first rollercoaster ride—“What the hell was that?” Well, first things first—the plot. Charlie Forte is a successful novelist who grows up in NYC and who, in a radio advertising career that made him rich, meanders across the country, finally follows his true aspiration to write, and ends up in a beautiful home overlooking the Pacific Ocean near LA. He’s in a loveless marriage, both partners mostly ignoring each other. At the desk in his writing cabin, he contemplates suicide and reviews his life. The suicide is supposed to happen later that day. Whether it does or not is unclear to this reader. What is clear is that the text took me on a mind-blowing trip through Charlie’s existence, phantasmagorical, as it relates to his lifelong love-hate history with women. And with life.
At first, the reminiscence is chronological, beginning with his mother’s breasts and onward toward sexual maturity, or in Charlie’s case, possibly immaturity. Charlie (via Mr. Panettiere) is a brilliant writer and eventually, without really noticing it, I found myself swirling in Charlie’s dreamlike imagery as he converses with his ultimate woman, Divine Light. I honestly could not understand all of it—the novel is about much more than male eros: a search for self, for love, a dedication to the honesty of verbal expression, the state of the world, the decline of culture, the beauty of language, and the morass of the human condition. Not to mention the interwoven music—Gerry Mulligan’s baritone sax rendition of “My Funny Valentine.” And the women. Like the stream of Leopold Bloom’s consciousness in Joyce’s Ulysses, it is the beauty and power of the exuberant prose that swept me through the sudden turns and ups-and-downs even though literal understanding sometimes eluded me. Nevertheless, what a helluva a ride! I think I even understand myself more deeply as a man.