Reviews and advance comments
WHAT COULD BE SAVED
"Spatz curates his language with the care of a skilled instrument maker, shaping the lives of makers and performers and amateur players. He is strong on atmospherics, from the confines of the practice room to the city of Seattle itself. Playing against these settings are the people in this collection. For string aficionados, the insider references will have a delicious resonance. Readers in general are likely to appreciate not only an insight into this highly specialized world, but also Spatz's understanding that no one works or lives in a vacuum. Paul struggles to find the right balance with his lover; he resists but wants a closer relationship with his father; he wonders at his mother's secret life. Grandfather and brother, family friends come in and out as well. It is within the human relationships that What Could Be Saved delivers its harmonies." -- Martha Anne Toll, NPR Books
"What Could Be Saved initiates the reader into the mysteries of a secret society of artists and artisans, thieves and treasure hunters, forgers and true believers, all of whom idolize the nearly supernatural powers and traditions of the violin. Those old, priceless instruments are like keys that unlock the quintessence of music and beauty, but they are also 'the devil's box,' just as often counterfeits that sow delusion and disenchantment as they pass from acolyte to acolyte – player to player, luthier to luthier – through the centuries. Gregory Spatz has conjoined these stories into a masterly quartet that casts the same spell on the reader as on its characters. This collection is magical, hypnotic, brilliant." — Paul Harding, musician and author of Pulitzer Prize winning Tinkers
"If good fiction is a bringing of the news from one world to another, then Gregory Spatz, with this radiant book, is bringing us news of the violin, giving voice to its makers, its players, and even the instrument itself. What a rare gift it is to be immersed in this world and emerge from it changed, with not only a richer understanding of music and those who make it, but a whole new way of listening." — Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, author of Madeleine is Sleeping and Ms. Hempel Chronicles
"Intricate and formally daring, Gregory Spatz's What Could Be Saved unshrouds the secret lives of high-end violins and their dedicated and impassioned makers. With their loves, losses, and obsessions spanning generations, we can't help but root for these perfectionists in an imperfect world. Like the venerable instrument at the center of these linked tales, Spatz's prose produces a beautiful tone." —Leland Cheuk, author of The Misadventures of Sulliver Pong
"A subtle, fascinating collection of exquisite and painstaking attention about, in many respects, exquisite and painstaking attention. I love how the story of each violin made or restored here, each relationship cultivated or lie told, is so beautifully, elegantly dense with the projections of the people implicated. I love too that Gregory Spatz reveals most of these people to be unexpectedly good and interesting, without becoming sentimental, and without sacrificing acknowledgment of a full spectrum of human behavior. In Gregory Spatz's What Could Be Saved, the violin—in the most unexpected landscape for so old and storied an instrument—is a magnificent container for and mirror of the best and worst of humanity; is a vehicle for our greatest capacities for the eternal verities, and a currency of deception and evil. This book is a new favorite." — Bonnie Nadzam, author of Lamb and Lions
"The novellas and stories of Gregory Spatz's What Could Be Saved teem with notes of human discord and connectivity, a constant surge of dissonance and melody, crushing a concert in your head of subtle, tortured character, of lyrical language languishing in the ear, of sadness and triumph wringing your heart. This tightly woven series of connected tales reminds us of what good literary writing is for, and why it will never fade out of tune." —Jamie Iredell, author of The Fat Kid
"What Could Be Saved is a vivid, engrossing portrait of luthiers and musicians, of fathers and sons, and of family lore fueling life-long obsessions. Gregory Spatz has written a love letter to both violins and to the artists and craftsmen whose lives, however briefly, intersect with them. Above all, these perfectly tuned stories convey the pathos of inheritance: the difference between what we think we're leaving behind, and what's actually left." —Alexis Smith, author of Glaciers and Marrow Island
"Gregory Spatz's new book is entrancing, a truly original work unlike anything else I can think of. It succeeds on so many different levels: as fiction, as musicology, as a primer on the art of violin-building. The prose in these pages simply dazzles. What a special writer Spatz has become." —Steve Yarbrough, author of eleven books, most recently the novel The Unmade World.
"Gregory Spatz has an extraordinary ability to get at what lies beneath the surface and put words to the ineffable—music, yes (even his violins speak!), but also the undercurrents of emotions, unconscious urges and inchoate longings that form and deform our lives. What Could Be Saved is as fiercely seeing as it is ultimately generous in its gentle vision of human frailty and the desire to connect." —Elizabeth Graver, author of The End of the Point.
HALF AS HAPPY
"Spatz (Inukshuk) writes like a dream, and he is perfectly at home with the focus on the self, the search for a personal truth, and other tropes of contemporary literary fiction." Publisher's Weekly (boxed review)
"Gregory Spatz is on a roll." Seattle Times
"Gregory Spatz’s voice, in the eight previously published stories now collected in HALF AS HAPPY, is wonderful. He is as observant, as trenchant, as sympathetic towards his characters as any writer working today...These are vibrant, richly described, indelible stories. Gregory Spatz is a masterful writer, working at the top of his game." Edra Ziesk -- The Nervous Breakdown
"Gregory Spatz exposes the essences of relationships with equal doses of clarity and compassion in his impressive short story collection Half as Happy." Largehearted Boy
"A writer whose work combines a sense of deep mining and exquisite detail...Spatz is inclined to feel merciful towards his readers. In doing so, he never compromises excellence; we are only partially sheltered, and there is still plenty to see." Necessary Fiction
“These stories will mend readers’ hearts even as they break them, and that is what makes them so wonderful and rare.” Paul Harding, Pulitzer Prize winning author of Tinkers.
"Intricate fiction that goes against the grain of conventional expectation. There are stories here that have the potential to linger in memory for their sheer unlikelihood, that rare never-read-anything-like-it quality." The Brooklyn Rail
"The collection’s eight stories are remarkably honest, driven by moments both funny and painful that uncover deep rifts in the lives of Spatz’s characters." Zyzzyva
"People seem to be paying a bit more attention to the short story, with the success of, for example, George Saunders, Karen Russell, and Junot Díaz. I’m pleased to say that, while more conventional in structure and writing style than those three, I found a better set of short stories in Half as Happy." The Mookse and the Gripes
"Half as Happy, is a wonderfully gratifying little book...just dying to wedge itself into a small corner of your heart." Persephone Magazine
“These stories are both funny and sad, in the true and inescapable way of real life, full of elegiac beauty. A masterful collection.” Brad Watson, Author of Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives.
“Gregory Spatz’s searching, complex stories linger with bell-like clarity.” Erin McGraw, Author of The Seamstress of Hollywood Boulevard.
"Spatz's writing is so good the reader barely sees it. There isn't a wrong note in these stories." Bibliophiac (blog)
“These are beautifully-wrought, haunting stories. Spatz is a marvelous writer, with a keen eye for the secrets of the human heart.” Dan Chaon, Author of Stay Awake.
"Fearless. Utterly unforgettable." -- Colleen Mondor, Bookslut
"Never overreaches. The resulting mix of well-researched history and contemporary fiction makes for a fine, sad read." -- Kim Ode, Minneapolis Star-Tribune
"This enthralling, tense book should lure not only fans of extreme weather novels but also those who admire a good, traditional structure and a satisfying and meaningful resolution." -- Olive Mullet, NewPages
“An elaborate tale of family and the paths people take to understanding.” —Seattle Times
“Inukshuk better communicates darkness and distress than any S.O.S. signal. . . . We can’t help but oscillate between feeling empathy and agony for this family as we are absorbed by Spatz’s cold, gripping tale.” —ZYZZYVA
“A mesmerizing story of a father and a son.” —Largehearted Boy
“Hauntingly honest and emotionally resonant.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Intimate and meditative . . . A thoughtful and sympathetic look at the sometimes troubled relationship between fathers and sons.” —Booklist
“Entertaining and much recommended.” —Midwest Book Review
"When a gifted writer finds the language to combine a love of music and a knowledge of music, something just clicks." -- Alan Cheuse, NPR "All Things Considered"
"Not just a coming-of-age story but a poetic insight into the world of the musician. Slow down and enjoy the music in every sentence." --Seattle Times, David Flood
"An unrivaled look into a young music lover's world and how the genre he loves slowly begins to define his life. Spatz's vivid insight into the music and the players Jesse meets is the heartfelt core of the book. A satisfying novel, ringing with the dedicated truth of American roots music, and the honesty and complicated vision of a quietly remarkable young man." --Chicago Sun-Times, Mary Houlihan
“Fiddler’s Dream is fine as bluegrass itself—as deeply layered and surprising as the best music. It is what I look for in any book: people I can dream myself into and be remade in the process. Everything comes the way of true black and white in a photography studio—slowly taking on depth and dimension until you feel the photographer has stolen the soul of his subject, caught it and made it immortal in the process. I love this book.”—Dorothy Allison, author of Bastard Out of Carolina
"Had the Father of Bluegrass been a literary critic, he would have loved Gregory Spatz's elegantly understated novel Fiddler's Dream. It is the book's great triumph (and Spatz's unique achievement as a fiddler/writer) that the precise, unintrusive writing style simultaneously mimics and pays homage to the music which is its subject." --No Depression, Richard Parks
"Masterful...Its genius lies in the way it gives readers a window deep into a young musician’s heart and mind, showing us a glimpse of the alchemy that turns experience into art." --Nashville Scene, Maria Browning
"If you've ever wondered about the connection between music and literature, you'll find it in Fiddler's Dream, a 'high lonesome' novel about a young man and his quest to become a bluegrass musician." --Dallas Morning News, Charles Ealy
"Fiddler's Dream is the first novel concerning bluegrass that gets it right. An antidote both to the dumbing down and over-intellectualization of bluegrass. Go buy this book! Stop reading this review. Go now!" --Bluegrass Unlimited
"Many novelists have written about music and musicians, but few of them have done it as beautifully as Gregory Spatz. He takes the calm resignation and gritty reality as well as the unshakable faith and wistful longing of down home music and somehow translates the heart of the music to his prose narrative. Fiddler's Dream is a novel to savor and even readers with a tin ear can sing along." --The Advocate (Pegram, TN), Mary Garrett
“Spatz renews the timeless odyssey of a gifted young man seeking his fortune and his father. With its sure-fingered rhythms and long, gorgeous passages of prose, Fiddler’s Dream contains some of the best writing I’ve ever read about music.”—Lan Samantha Chang, author of Inheritance
“The musician in me was carried away by Gregory Spatz’s account of a young man’s pilgrimage to Nashville, his passion for the fiddle and for the country repertoire. The writer in me was captured by the music of his prose. Fiddler’s Dream is a bluegrass concerto, as lyrical in the telling as the wise and tender story Spatz has to tell.”—James D. Houston, author of Snow Mountain Passage
“Gregory Spatz writes about the experience of playing music with more truth and beauty than it has ever been written about before. If you care about music you’ll love this book. If you love bluegrass, you’d better buy half a dozen copies, because you’ll lend it to friends who won’t return it.”—David Huddle, author of La Tour Dreams of the Wolf Girl
“A lovely and evocative story, told with precision and infinite care. This is the best writing about making music since Frank Conroy’s Body and Soul.”—Mark Childress, author of Crazy in Alabama
"Tender portraits of people caught in difficult, in-between moments ripe with choice, vignettes that can spark a recollection of the heartbreaking struggles of youth.… Eloquent prose." —The New York Times Book Review
"Spatz explores the complicated, often bewildering emotions behind various forms of love: between fathers and sons, between spouses, between lovers. The tales, suffused with a gentle melancholy, are driven not by external events, but by the characters' memories of loss and their futile search for unfettered affection. Spatz can subtly and economically depict the erosion or betrayal of love, portraying his characters' inner lives in expressive but unadorned prose. Quietly moving, resonant images of emotional push and pull."—Publishers Weekly
"Filled with unexpected insight, these stories will appeal to lovers of the form."—Booklist
"Wonderful Tricks is a magical collection of ten stories that shines a light on the holographic nature of relationships and all their hard-edged fragments, giving the reader a pleasing whole that lingers long after the book is closed. … Right down to the sentence level, Spatz successfully magnifies the realities and illusions of relationships in carefully crafted prose that satisfies."—Seattle Times
"Romances that fizzle and fray, marriages gone bust, and teenagers trying to make sense of love-such are the [collection's] all-too-human delights."—Kirkus Reviews
"The stories in Wonderful Tricks are at once intricate and gripping, and they're told in prose that sings."—Elizabeth Graver, author of Unravelling and The Honey Thief
"Images that feel like our memories and characters who feel like ourselves … There are few books capable of making their readers better people by offering insight into the human heart. Wonderful Tricks is one of them."—Spokane Local Planet
"By the end of Wonderful Tricks, the reader is transformed into a sort of memory packrat, convinced that every menial detail in life can be salvaged and used for something—can be polished and turned into art. Spatz demonstrates he has the knack for that art; he has vision, and the eye for design that allows him to turn his mental piles of collected details into masterpieces. The ten stories are about love, and, fittingly, are rife with gorgeous, poetic language. Spatz is a remarkably observant and sensual writer."—Big Muddy, A Journal of the Mississippi River Valley
"Not unlike the airy Marc Chagall figures on the book's cover, the characters in Wonderful Tricks circle ineffectually around one another and are estranged by varying degrees of emotional gravity. In a sense these are love stories, inhabited by strong-willed women and bewildered men, and by children who see more than they should, both literally and figuratively. … [Spatz's] characters long to memorize the exact sense of what it is to love and leave a place or person behind, or secretly to relinquish an adult's vocabulary, articulation and knowledge in order to bump along like a small child again."—The Inlander