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Review: The Metropolis Case by Matthew Gallaway

Review: The Metropolis Case by Matthew Gallaway post image

Title: The Metropolis Case
Author: Matthew Gallaway
Genre: Fiction
Year: 2010
Acquired: From the publisher for a TLC Book Tours review.
Rating: ★★½☆☆

One Sentence Summary: A grandly operatic story about four people connected over time and space through their connections to the opera.

One Sentence Review: Gallaway’s writing style didn’t work for me, but a well-plotted story and intriguing characters make the book worth exploring.

Long Review: The Metropolis Case is the story of four people, connected through time and space through music, art, and the opera Tristan & Isolde. Margin is a 40-year-old gay lawyer struggling with a feeling of disconnection from his life and those around him. Maria is a young opera prodigy trying to use her voice as a way to escape from her troubled past as an adopted child in Pittsburgh. Anna is a former star of the opera now just past her prime and mentoring other young singers. And Lucien is a young singer at the beginning of the modern opera. Each of these characters starts the story in a very distinct time and place, but as the story progresses to be more magical, then come together to give the story a sense of cohesion.

As much as I was intrigued with the plot if The Metropolis Case, I wasn’t a big fan of the writing style of the book. The writing felt very “tell-y,” in the sense that Gallaway more often than not just said what characters were doing and thinking rather than leaving subtleties for the reader to explore. I always think about telling as part of the exposition — giving us some basics about the characters, an introduction, before launching into the story and how we get to understand them. The whole book felt like character exposition, which I found a little disappointing.

Similarly, the book didn’t leave very much for a reader to think about, other than how the four characters might come together in the end. Take, for example, this passage from a section near the beginning about Gina, Maria’s adoptive mother:

When it ended, Gina saw her reflection in the fading hues of the television screen and knew that she wanted to die, too. The simplicity of this wish was breathtaking and undeniable: she longed to be released from the mundane burdens of Castle Shannon, from working and shipping and cooking and cleaning and everything else that seemed to leave so little time for anything fun or different. She wanted to be young again, but this time confident and talented and pretty, so that like Callas she could travel the world to perform on ornate stages framed by velvet curtains and then go to parties on silver yachts.

The writing in that passage, and in many others of the book, is generally lovely, but simply over told. When an author just states things about a character, I find that I don’t connect with the character as well — I know what the characters feel, but I never really feel what the characters feel in a meaningful way. I worry that makes no sense, but that’s what happened for me with this book.

However, I do think the book has other things to offer, even if I have quibbles with the style. Gallaway’s knowledge of the opera and of music in general must be impressive, and he’s done a commendable job of trying to explain what it means to make art and what that feeling of being an artist can be like. I’m not a musician by any stretch of the imagination — I played clarinet for eight years as a kid and was never very good — but I know the feeling when music or art really moves you. I could never put that feeling into words, but Gallaway tries and succeeds in many cases.

I guess now that I think about it, the subtlety in the book isn’t with the characters, but more within the plotting and pacing of the story. Gallaway weaves the characters in and out of each other’s lives gracefully, without quite giving away the connections at any point.  I can definitely appreciate that. The way it all comes together in the end is a little messy and relies more on some magical stuff that I might have wanted, but it didn’t feel out of line to me. Gallaway also is not afraid to explore darker themes of sexuality, illness, despondency, and death, which seems fitting for a book with the opera Tristan & Isolde at the center of it. Just be warned that it’s a little graphic in parts, too.

While I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a fan of this book, I can see lovers of music or art really appreciating that side of the story and perhaps connecting with Martin, Maria, Anna, and Lucien more than I did.

Other Reviews: The Lost Entwife | Wordsmithonia | Truth, Beauty, Freedom, and Books | Life in Review | Unabridged Chick | Dolce Bellezza | Rundpinne |

If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link to the review in the comments and I will add your review to the main post. All I ask is for you to do the same to mine — thanks!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • bermudaonion (Kathy) January 21, 2011, 7:40 am

    The reviews on this book seem to be mixed, but I trust your opinion, so I think I’ll skip it. It’s a shame too, because I love the cover!

    • Kim January 21, 2011, 11:16 pm

      Kathy: I read through the other reviews on the tour and got the same sense. I love the cover too — it reminds me of The City and the City.

  • Diane@BibliophileBytheSea January 21, 2011, 8:14 am

    I was really excited about this book, but lately I am beginning to feel differently. Thanks for the honest review.

    • Kim January 21, 2011, 11:17 pm

      Diane: If you were excited about it, I say give it a try — maybe reserve it at the library and try it that way? Writing negative reviews can be hard, so thanks!

  • Jeanne January 21, 2011, 9:37 am

    Maybe opera lovers will adore this book–in general, they’re not fans of a subtle story!

    • Kim January 21, 2011, 11:17 pm

      Jeanne: Ha, I suppose that’s true – opera isn’t a format designed for subtlety. I hope opera fans try it, I think they will enjoy the music parts.

  • nomadreader (Carrie) January 21, 2011, 1:32 pm

    I like the idea of this book, but it doesn’t sound like it works too well. I’ll keep my fingers crossed this author’s next book fares better!

    • Kim January 21, 2011, 11:18 pm

      Carrie: I thought the different storylines worked pretty well together — even if the conclusion was a little magical — but the writing really didn’t work for me.

  • Man of la Book January 21, 2011, 2:07 pm

    Nice and honest review – who could ask for more?
    Like Carrie I also liked the idea of the book and I’m also a small opera fan. What I love about books are small tidbits which, I think, only the author and I are privy to. I know that’s not the case, but I like to think so.


    • Kim January 21, 2011, 11:19 pm

      Man of la Book: I know what you mean — finding things in a book you know that a general person might miss, that’s always fun.

  • Jenny January 21, 2011, 9:22 pm

    I am reading this right now! The writing style is a smidge overwrought for me, but I’m still enjoying it a moderate amount. It’s kind of making me want to give opera a try — Wagner in particular. So I guess that’s something.

    • Kim January 21, 2011, 11:20 pm

      Jenny: Yes, overwrought is exactly the word I was looking for and then took three paragraphs to get to. It did make me want to try opera too — I’m going to make my friend Lindsay, an art critic, take me to one.

  • Lisa Munley February 12, 2011, 10:16 am

    Kim, sorry for the delay in getting over here to check out your review. It’s a shame the book didn’t work for you but I really appreciate your fair and balanced review. Thank you so much for pointing out the good things as well as the not-so-good! We really appreciate you being on the tour.

    • Kim February 13, 2011, 12:59 pm

      Thanks for stopping by, Lisa. I’m bummed the book wasn’t great for me too, but I think a lot of it was me as a reader and not as much the book itself. I think there are many readers who would like it.