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Harry Magnet
The Next Beethoven
Harry Magnet, author

Adult; General Fiction (including literary and historical); (Market)

David Green is a millennial virtuoso pianist and composer, who aspires to become a great composer. He also has the more ambitious goal of starting a Second Renaissance, and organizes a group of like-minded New York City artists who want to restore art to its European glory days. Clinical psychologist Bill Leornig is David’s girlfriend’s faculty advisor at NYU. As the Second Renaissance group unravels, and David becomes depressed, Leornig must decide whether to help David. The book includes the novel and four short stories.
Characters grapple with the meaning of art and the weight of their choices in this debut collection of the title novel and four short stories. In the novel, promising 23-year-old pianist and composition student David Green, frustrated by modern and contemporary music, posts an ad looking for like-minded artists to revitalize classical modes. The Second Renaissance Artist Group’s first project focuses on depicting 9/11 as a heroic tragedy, but the group quickly falls apart under clashing philosophies and personalities, and David spirals into a destructive depression. In the uncomfortable “The Twenty-First Century Maecenas,” a woman’s suspicion about her husband’s infidelity is squashed when she learns his wealthy patron is quadriplegic. Assumptions have deadlier consequences in “Death Lake,” in which a husband narrowly escapes an attempt on his life, and “Classmates,” which follows a mother trying to solve her daughter’s murder. A young woman attracts a nerdy stalker in “The Hazards of Social Psychology Research.”

Magnet’s best moments come as he shows how ideas crystallize into harmful dogmas. A character’s obsession with Objectivism turns him into an egoist ready to toss aside anything “irrational,” including relationships and schoolwork. David uses fundamentalism to justify his increasingly violent behavior, including stalking, insulting his teacher, loudly disrupting a performance, and sexually assaulting his ex-girlfriend. This makes his eventual vindication troubling.

The prose sometimes falls into didacticism, and the fist-shaking disparagement of contemporary art could alienate some readers. Those who push through will see intriguing questions being asked about the unquestioned dominance of styles now a century old, the ability of any single artist to shake norms, and the connections between creativity and mental illness. The artist group’s disintegration highlights the struggles of those who swim against the zeitgeist while coping with financial instability and a lack of broader community. This esoteric work upholds a specific view of genius that excuses any harm perpetrated in the pursuit of creative achievement.

Takeaway: This moody, polemical excavation of contemporary art’s fixation on modernism will satisfy readers who believe creative genius excuses all flaws.

Great for fans of Bret Easton Ellis’s White, Gen LaGreca.

Production grades
Cover: B+
Design and typography: A-
Illustrations: -
Editing: B
Marketing copy: A