When Callie Quinn became pregnant at seventeen in 1960s rural Missouri, her outraged father, with her mother’s acquiescence, insisted that no one know―and Callie complied. She went away, and she gave up her baby. But not for their reasons. She did it to protect the baby’s father―a black teen―from the era’s racist violence. Decades later, now a translator in Mexico, Callie and her closeted gay friend, Armando, search for his missing dog. Worried that Armando will lose his Paris love, too, if he doesn’t come out, Callie invents a tale of her fiancé’s inconvenient death in his closet. Meanwhile, her true losses remain as hidden as the river that winds beneath Guanajuato’s historic center. When Pamela, a musician whose music flows from her heart, enters Callie’s life, Callie takes up the trumpet―and begins to dream of opening her own heart. But instead she remains silent, hiding her longing and risking giving up everyone she dares to love in order to safeguard her secret. Callie tells herself she does so to protect her daughter, but ultimately, in order to speak, she must confront the deepest reasons for her silence―the ones she’s been concealing even from herself.
Romain’s enchanting debut delves into the complex personalities of two friends living in the mountains of central Mexico. Callie Quinn is an anxiety-ridden expatriate American nearing 50, and Armando García is a vivacious 30-year-old orchestral musician. Both are transplants in Guanajuato; Armando settled in the town to be near his mentor, the local symphony conductor, and Callie, who works as a Spanish and French translator of technical documents, decided to buy a house there after visiting the town’s museum. After Armando hears about Callie’s translation skills, he requests help from her with French grammar to better correspond with his French lover. Armando is consumed by worries about his missing dog and long-distance relationship, while Callie works to build a serene new life amid painful memories from her early years. Callie is a stabilizing force in Armando’s life, and his charisma helps her confront her debilitating shyness and its quirky manifestations, such as her habit of mentally alphabetizing her seasonings when she’s stressed. Armando arranges trumpet lessons for Callie, and playing the instrument provides her with some relief (“It was addictive, that sensation of resonance”). Romain’s insights into the characters’ flaws enrich this story of friendship, along with prose that is sometimes droll, often fervent, and always engrossing. This is worth a look. (Self-published)
Correction: An earlier version of this review misstated two plot points.
The Trumpet Lesson: A Novel by Dianne Romain is the Award Winner in the Women’s Fiction category of the 2019 American Fiction Awards.