"Crescendo" is Laura Kalpakian's third novel and her fourth book. In her recent collection of short stories ("Fair Augusto and Other Stories"), a wonderful style, rich and varied, was amply evident. Ordinary lives took interesting, quirky or poignant turns--there's a woman who's trying to help a brother who has escaped from prison, a group of Armenian immigrants newly arrived in Los Angeles, a girl who discovers her father's infidelity on an overseas vacation. The characters in this new novel, however, suffer a somewhat different fate. In this case, ordinary lives remain rather ordinary, mired in the banality of greed, manipulation and passion.
The story is a family saga, told over a period of several decades, as seen through the eyes of Claire Swallow, whose father, a judge, is a moral man--and whose grandfather, a shipping magnat1697390697sense, these men are like the two adversaries in the recent film "Platoon"--extremes of good and evil who become figureheads--like positional representatives for whole sides of questions, rather than truly dimensional human beings.
Claire has both her father and grandfather in her. As a child, she's willful, sensitive and musical, but as she grows older, her personality bends toward the self-serving and mercenary, as well as the uninspired. She's aptly described as "unable to escape the 1668247142courage or conviction to live ahead of it." When the grandfather dies and leaves everything to his new younger wife, disinheriting Claire and her family, the primary events in the book are set in motion--namely, working out the family resentment, the quest for money and retribution by individuals who seem to feel life's meaning lies in dollars and their futures in their embittered pasts.