What if every single thing ever played on her Blüthner left an afterimage, a shadow of emotion deposited somewhere inside the case, on the soundboard or the hammers or the strings? What if – just as a photo album grew thick with the memories of holidays, vacations, family, and friends—the piano gained the weight of each owner and his or her music?” – The Weight of a Piano, Chris Cander
The Weight of a Piano, though set into motion by a series of tragic circumstances, is anything but a tragedy. Through the story of a 1905 Blüthner piano, Chris Cander explores identity, place and the memories and objects that keep us tethered to both.
Alternating between Clara Lundy in Bakersfield in 2012 and Katya Zeldin over the years, beginning in 1962 in Soviet Russia, the novel ties together two seemingly unconnected lives by bridging the distance through the journey of the piano from Katya to Clara. Eight-year-old Katya is bequeathed the piano after the death of a neighbor and understands her identity through the music she plays on this very piano. At 20, she meets the charming Mikhail Zeldin, and when their son Grisha is born, they leave Russia for the United States—and Katya must emigrate without her piano, now sold by her husband to an acquaintance in the hopes that they can one day bring it to their new home in California. Their life isn’t the picture-perfect dream Mikhail expected it to be, and over the years, he grows unhappier as his wife retreats further into her music.f
In 2012, Clara’s boyfriend breaks up with her, and while moving her piano out of his house, she injures her hand. Forced to take a vacation from her job as a mechanic, she lists the piano for sale in an attempt to get enough money to pay her rent for the next few months without going into debt. New York photographer Greg Zeldin immediately pays her and buys the piano, but Clara has a change of heart and agrees to let him rent it. Clara follows him on his trip to California’s Death Valley to photograph the piano, and in doing so, both discover their connection to each other. In the final chapter, as Clara pushes the piano off a cliff for the sake of Greg’s photo shoot, they finally let go of the past.
The Weight of a Piano is a beautiful exploration of passion and art and music—and of place and identity. Cander highlights the effect identity has on art and art has on identity, and how deeply this identity is tied to place. Passion and the emotional strain objects can have in weighing us down are eloquently articulated through the connected stories of Greg and Clara, and how they finally manage to move past these strains. Through the focus on the 1905 Blüthner, Cander explores how much power the past exerts over us and whether the past is something we can ever truly let go of.