For her 1993 novel, The Shipping News, E. Annie Proulx won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. She is only the fifth author in history to accomplish this. Her first novel, Postcards, also stunned readers with its darkly comic characterization and assured technique. Proulx's third novel, Accordion Crimes, takes a panoramic sweep of the American immigrant experience, relating a multitude of stories all linked by a lovingly hand-crafted Sicilian accordion. In 1890 the accordion's maker journeys to New Orleans to find his fortune, but instead ends up dying in an anti-Italian riot not long after his arrival. Over the next hundred years the accordion changes hands frequently be it sold, given away, or stolen. In the hands of various owners, first- and second-generation Americans, it often witnesses similarly unlucky fates. Proulx's grim humor and the absurdity of the violence that follows the green accordion (self decapitation, poisonous spiders and freak accidents) accentuates the passion and prejudice that so many American immigrants experienced. Georgie, Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
traces the long odyssey of a button accordion, an instrument made by a Sicilian who immigrates to New Orleans in 1891. Imprisoned in a round-up of Italian suspects after the political murder of the chief of police, the accordion maker is lynched, and his accordion falls into the hands of Apollo, a black steamboat screwman. The instrument begins its long, erratic voyage through 20th-century America, passing through the hands of the descendants of slaves, immigrants and their children, some of whom learn that the cost of becoming American is to surrender the private definition of self.
Accordion Crimes is alive with vividly drawn characters who sometimes meet violent, strange ends, and who, at other times, succeed in a hard world. Filled with indelible images, Proulx's latest novel is charged with sardonic wit and is, at different turns, darkly hilarious and heartbreakingly sad. What we see as the accordion weakens and disintegrates is a haunting and ominous sense of what is America.
About the Author
E. Annie Proulx:
A Note to Readers;
I am the oldest of five girls. I was born in Connecticut in 1935, where my mother's English ancestors -- farmers, mill workers, inventors, artists -- have lived for 350 years. My father's Quebec-born grandparents came to New England in the 1860s to work in the woolen mills. My father continued in the textile tradition and we moved frequently when I was a child as he worked his way up the executive ladder. My mother, who died in 1994, was a painter and amateur naturalist, and from her I learned to see and appreciate the natural world and to develop an eye for detail. There was a strong tradition of oral storytelling in my mother's family and, although I work on the page, I see myself as continuing that tradition.
I lived in Vermont for more than 30 years but in 1995 moved to Wyoming, the place where I used to travel to in order to write. The long sight-lines encourage clarity of vision, the roll of high plains and stony steeps satisfy some inner longing smothered by my native New England woods.
The idea for Accordion Crimes -- a small accordion passing from hand to hand, from community to community -- came several years ago while I was writing one of the more tedious parts of The Shipping News. The writing mind seems to conjure up fresh and alluring stories when beleaguered by difficult sections in the work at hand. Specifically, the shape of the entire story was worked out while I sat shaking and aching in the middle of the night in the hours after a bite by a Brown Recluse spider, an experience that became part of the book. At that early stage I planned to set the story entirely in Texas, a state with an extremely rich immigrant population, and shortly after finishing The Shipping News, I applied for a Dobie Paisano fellowship -- a six month residency at Frank Dobie's old Paisano Ranch in Texas -- in order to work the story into the Texas landscape and geography. I did not get the fellowship and so had to restructure the book and, in the interests of balance, to throw out or recast all but one of the Texas sections already written. The canvas enlarged, the focus switched from Texas to America, and the driving point of the story became not the regional adventures of an accordion but the immigrant experience and the individual and cultural costs of abandoning the past and reinventing oneself. I am very much interested in the American penchant for redefining the self, our attraction to shape shifting, career changes, plastic surgery and cosmetic makeover, sex changes, our root-tearing mobility -- how did we become this way? Was it the immigrant experience, the rite of passage of literally redefining oneself as an American? Accordion Crimes was a way into some of this.
OTHER FICTION BY E. ANNIE PROULX:
- The Shipping News
- Heart Songs and Other Stories
Reading Group Discussion Points
Other Books With Reading Group Guides