'Poignant, and ironically funny'
WAITING FOR THE PIANO TUNER TO DIE | THE GLOBE AND MAIL
If you believe life is little more than a series of disappointments followed by death, then the 10 stylistically dazzling stories in Harriet Richards’s Waiting for the Piano Tuner to Die may well convince you to change your tune.
A Toronto native who migrated west during the sixties, Richards snagged Saskatchewan’s Best First Book Award (1997) with The Lavender Child, a stylistically dazzling novel. Given the exquisite quality of the writing on display in her current work, similar honours would seem to have her name written all over them.
Each entry, carefully crafted and beautifully executed, explores the moods and minds of memorable characters who suffer the slings and sorrows of mundane misfortune. Richards, at her best when she enters psychological terrain, maps psychic contours with chilling accuracy and eerie pulchritude.
Rosa Velos is one such character in a story that itself seems torn in two by ethical ambiguity. Can evil bloom in the mind of an eight-year-old who may or may not be guilty of drowning her best friend? Whose recollections are right? Whose are merely confabulation? It’s a keen distinction the author reluctantly examines.
Effortlessly moving through territory dominated by disquietude and distress in / Can’t See It, Richards creates a luminous portrait of a chain-smoking grandmother. Alma, who refuses to relinquish her daughter’s eight-year-old. “She is my kid,” insists Prue, yet again proclaiming that she, her fiance and her kid will return to Red Deer, where the girl will “go to movies and play in the park and have a dishwasher and a car.” Alma, briefly reflecting that it’s a stupid thing to say (while simultaneously realizing that everything’s becoming stupid, anyway), deadpans: “She’s only eight, Prue. She can’t drive a car.”
It is the collection’s closer, A Wonderful Dancer, that really delivers the knock-out punch. Its stunning economy and crisp austerity rival poetry’s compressed intensity as Richards paints an unforgettably rich portrait imbued with dignity and lyrical grace.
It recalls a love affair between a pair of captivating seniors, viewed through the eyes of the inamorata’s daughter, the self-deprecating Clarice. Early on, Clarice observes that her mother, “a much younger woman than she should have been, “possessed a “sweet kind of vanity which she was very aware of and tried to disguise.” Not surprisingly, among the shadows of this ludic narrative circumscribing love, need and greed, lurks a joy-spoiler non pareil; Magdalen, the daughter of the dapper piano tuner, waiting for her meal-ticket to die.
A piano tuner adjusts the instrument’s strings to ensure it sounds harmonious. The same might be said of Richards’s talent for creating organically unified short fictions of the first order.
— Judith Fitzgerald
Waiting For The Piano Tuner To Die | May 17, 2003