A Song for a New Day by Sarah Pinsker was written and published before the COVID-19 pandemic, which makes the similarities to the early days of it that much more striking. In a United States very similar to our own, after a series of disasters, large congregations of people are forbidden by law. Years later, virtual experiences have taken the place of concerts, sports events, and school for most people who survive. This book is about how people cope with the restrictions, and the difficulties and triumphs of emerging from them. It’s great!
Luce Cannon left her Orthodox Jewish family when she realized she was a lesbian and also wanted to pursue live music outside of her insular community as a career. Luce narrates first person chapters about the time before the mix of disasters, and we live through it with her. Rosemary Laws was a child when their lockdown began, so her tight third person narrative gives perspective on the fallout years later, all through part one. In part two, the narrative threads are united and we see musical performance from two angles: remote performances under the control of a corporation, and small live performances in houses, basements, etc. that have to hide from law enforcement because they are unlawful.
I really enjoyed this book! I had put it on hold for a bit to get a little distance from the early days of the real-life pandemic. Science fiction may be predictive, but it’s often speculation about the world we live in, exploring reflections of our society and where we’re going. Pinsker’s depiction of government and corporate interests subsuming American society during a crisis was chillingly prescient, I felt, as was the subsequent isolation and fear that fed consumerism but not souls. More heartening is the depiction of various musical communities and performers, and Rosemary’s gradual and beautiful path to experiencing first a remote live performance, then in-person concerts. Rosemary’s emergence from her isolated home on a farm in a minuscule town into the wider world, growing more savvy and self-reliant as she goes, is inspiring.
Pinsker is a performing musician herself, with several albums, and her inside knowledge comes through. Though my music performance is all through choral singing, there were too many personally resonant quotes in this book for me to count. Highly recommended!