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THE MIAMI HERALD
Mayra Montero: Classical Music Critic Reviews More Than Music
BY FABIOLA SANTIAGO
June 22, 2003
DEEP PURPLE. Mayra Montero. Translated by Edith Grossman. Ecco/HarperCollins. 192 pages. $22.95.
Surely, there must be at least two Mayra Monteros. One writes serious, multilayered fiction with intricately woven historical background and cultural insights, such celebrated titles as The Messenger and The Red of His Shadow. The other has a heck of a good time penning tantalizing erotic novelettes with oversexed protagonists.
Deep Purple is the latter. It's easy to imagine Montero mischievously scheming and snickering as she plots the next quirky sex-charged scene in this tale about a classical music critic addicted to seducing the virtuosos he writes about in a San Juan newspaper.
In its original Spanish edition, Púrpura profunda, the novel won Tuquets' La Sonrisa Vertical (The Vertical Smile) prize for erotic fiction in 2000. Her previous erotic novel, The Last Night I Spent With You, was a finalist in 1991 for the same prize, which is awarded annually and taken quite seriously by the prestigious Spanish publishing house and the literary world.
There's plenty of versatile sex in Deep Purple as critic Agustín Cabán is not aroused by a musician of a particular gender but by musical character, which Cabán assesses by studying body parts.
''Feet tell me a good deal about the musical character of a violinist,'' Cabán reveals early on. ``I notice the size and shape, and the manner in which the musician brings them together or separates them. I also carefully look at the calves, and somehow, I know that the musician's expressiveness comes from there, from the ankles to the backs of the knees.''
So when violinist Virginia Tuten wears white espadrilles to rehearsal she becomes the target of Cabán's temporary affections. Similarly, he is seduced by and seduces Australian pianist Clint Verret and spends three days in Denver captivated by his music. Then it's Clarissa Berdsley, the French horn player, and violinist Manuela Suggia, who give Cabán more adventure than he signed up for.
All that sex, however, doesn't lessen the novel's literary merit or Montero's ability to deliver a story that is never just about what it seems on the surface. This is more a story about envy than love, more about power than sex. And it's about that moment in life when a man cannot help but look back and wonder . . . wonder.
Faced with mandatory retirement and feeling quite un-grandfatherly, Cabán feels he has nothing left to do except evoke the ghosts of his old lovers. Egged on by Sebastián, the newspaper's affable entertainment editor, Cabán begins to write his memoirs: ``Saying goodbye to one's profession is like saying goodbye to sex, one clings to it. I cling to this brief piece of writing as if it were a woman's body, the last I will ever embrace in my life.''
So the story begins. Montero is fabulous at capturing the aging man's voice. But the book has one gaping hole: Montero never tells readers what Cabán writes about the musicians he seduces or how his relationship with them colors his judgment about their music.
It's surprising because Montero, who was born in Cuba but considers herself more Puerto Rican because of the decades she has spent on that island, knows the journalism world well. She started her career as a journalist and still writes newspaper columns.
Come to think of it, that makes at least three Mayra Monteros. Her readers are all the better for it.