The narrator in The Morels by Christopher Hacker was a musical prodigy of sorts is now a movie house ticket seller, taker, and janitor in addition to being an indie movie something or other who lives with his mom. He isn’t terribly ambitious. He runs into a former fellow musical prodigy of fourteen years ago while waiting for an elevator on his film editor’s floor. He, too, gave up music and is an author now, married with a son. His name is Arthur Morel, his wife is Penelope, and their son is Will. Arthur was a remarkable violinist, but his career was ended by a rather base act he committed on stage during a celebratory concert at school. Our narrator is picked up by a young woman at the theater while he is collecting tickets and he becomes part of her recovery ritual like her young golden retriever that isn’t quite house trained yet. She has much baggage, but so does he.
The narrator becomes Penelope’s sounding board because she doesn’t have any girlfriends to talk to, especially after Arthur’s second novel. Arthur has a great deal of talent at whatever he takes on, but he cuts his nose off to spite his face too often. Arthur and Penelope are very conscious about how they raise Will. At eleven, Will is making his own decisions and is experiencing free will. The grandparents are worried. This is also part of the thinking and sub plot about art, what it is, and what role it plays in our lives. Arthur is an artist and his actions upset people as we see at the concert and with his second novel.
When it all goes south sometimes it really goes south. The end of the year holidays get it going as the narrator is falling more and more for Penelope and is going deeper and deeper into that dark place. His mother does help some when she reminds him, “I won’t tell you that it gets easier, because it doesn’t. It just seems to matter less, the older you get. It’s an improvisation. Think of it that way. And there are no wrong notes, because it’s your tune. You make it up. It’s not ideal, but what other choice do you have?”
Perhaps the best way to really understand children is to know their parents. This is true of Arthur, Will, and Penelope. Meeting Arthur’s parents during the documentary is eye opening. Understanding Will is easy, we know Arthur and Penelope. Penelope isn’t too difficult once we know Frank and Constance. And once the second novel gets short listed for an award everything changes.
Catharsis is an overwhelming theme in this undulating, return home novel. The sins of the father and all that. Art is the subject that is what is sought here, what is never compromised, and always held supreme as point of view is explored until the son discovers his voice. Symbols are rampant in the novel starting with the title and the mere exchange of an ‘a’ for the ‘e’ and in the names of the three Morels: Art, Will, and Penelope.