Subtly rendered with glimpses of brilliance, we can only hope that Matthew Gallaway’s first novel, The Metropolis Case, is not his last and indeed bears no similarity to the opera at the heart of its plot. Tristan and Isolde, notorious for its tendency to claim lives and careers because of its length and difficulty, acts as centerpiece to the multiple plotlines which explore the tenuous relationship of reality to art, especially music.
There are four main characters. Lucien is an aspiring opera singer in 19th-century Paris and Vienna. There’s Anna, whose launching pad for a resilient opera career is her turn in Tristan and Isolde. Maria is a socially stunted girl coming of age in 1970s Pittsburgh and then at Julliard as her operatic abilities pull her out of disenfranchisement. Finally there is Martin, a middle-aged lost soul living in modern-day New York City (who ostensibly seems to be a little bit of a guise for Gallaway).
At one point, Martin becomes unexpectedly ensnared by the strange accessibility of the opera, an art form that intimidates him and tends to do the same to many others (including this reviewer). Similarly, the novel surprises as it comfortably eases into a plot that, while dependent on an understanding of Tristan and Isolde, never feels oppressive or akin to collegiate study. The reader is deftly initiated into the tale with just as much background information as is necessary. Gallaway handily uses it to augment its true preoccupation: the representation of how music can transform a life.
Weaving NYC with the Paris and Vienna of over a century ago, as well as 1970s Pittsburgh suburbs, Gallaway again takes situations that seems strange and unlikely to intersect and turns them into something that ultimately makes a great deal of sense. Metropolis’s ambitions are high and largely realized. As any successful story that employs multiple storylines, it isn’t evident why these disparate characters are important to one another until one is convinced that the stakes that govern each are so similar that one eventually questions, How could they not be essential to one another? It produces an intimacy between the characters that consequently develops the book’s intimacy with the reader—exactly the force which is the ultimate strength of a successful novel.
Not that it’s pitch-perfect at all times. Gallaway’s brief forays into sexual encounters betray a maladroit handling of the act (but hey, good sex writing is really difficult). Also, an instance of something straight from science fiction unduly appears, something not effectively allowed for by the terms set forth throughout the preceding text. However, this incident is thankfully not so overly divergent that it can diminish the flashes of personal insight and overall beauty of the writing style.
The fact that Pittsburgh makes an appearance in the novel is not coincidental—Matthew Gallaway was a native before he moved on to Cornell University and subsequently law school at NYU. Gallaway is an avid blogger (short stories that employ his cats are as entertaining as any other internet-based cats meme). Also, he recently detailed his feelings on Pittsburgh in the Post-Gazette.
Gallaway is reading at Carnegie Public Library—Main (Oakland) on Thursday, April 21st at 6PM (Free). To reserve a seat, call 412-622-8866 or visit the Writers Live website for more details and to reserve a seat online.