The Flautist

BOOK REVIEW by Willard Manus

Robert Riche, a contributor to Lively Arts, is also an accomplished poet, playwright ("Malcolm X") and novelist. His latest book, THE FLAUTIST, deals with the misfortunes that befall a young married couple when one of them has an adulterous affair. This unfortunate but all-too-familiar occurrence not only wrecks the marriage but eventually results in a fatal act of violence.

The flautist of the book's title is Kruger Huffman, a young, talented musician who desperately yearns to land a job with a symphony orchestra but keeps falling short each time he has an audition. To put bread on the table, he teaches music at the local high school and conducts its marching band.

His bright, fetching wife Sara (another music teacher) has given Kruger two young girls, whom Kruger loves dearly. Yet his gnawing discontent at having failed to live up to his calling begins to turn into a full-blown depression. To try and cheer him up on his 30th birthday, Sara buys him a special present: a two-week trip in July to the world-acclaimed Wagnerian Music Festival in Ravello, Italy.

There, in that picturesque, sun-drenched hilltown, Kruger meets Charles DeLong, a wealthy music impresario. DeLong is handsome in a leonine way, as well as cultured and sophisticated, a true man of the world. He is also openly homosexual and soon makes a play for Kruger, using his status and power to try and seduce the ambitious but somewhat naive flutist.

Kruger has never thought of himself as gay, just sensitive and a bit undersexed--traits that are not unusual in an artistic temperament. His image of himself changes completely when DeLong invites him into his upper-class life--and his bedroom. This happens back in New England, where De Long owns a luxurious home and plays host to renowned classical musicians. Kruger, dazzled by DeLong's lifestyle--and by the promise of a symphony seat--happily becomes the older man's lover, his boytoy.

This leads not only to the breakup of his marriage but the loss of his teaching job. The furious Sara, meanwhile, tries to repair her shattered life as best she can. A single mother now, she struggles to cope and keep sane. Things ultimately improve when she
falls in love--sort of--with a fellow-teacher, Claude.

Fate plays an important part in the tragic love story that is THE FLAUTIST. Claude lands a job in Berlin and asks Sara to join him there. But she gets pregnant and wonders if she should have the baby or not. Kruger gets dumped by De Long and begs Sara to take him back. But before these questions can be answered, a bullet fired by a wild-eyed pro-lifer picketing outside an abortion clinic has a devastating impact on them. Zealotry and
fanaticism win the day, triumphing over all the flawed human beings in this deftly written, deeply affecting novel.