Accordion Crimes: Dismal Reality ChecksAuthor: E. Annie ProulxAccordion Crimes is a difficult book to place in a single time periodbecause the story takes place over about 100 years, originating in a smallSicilian village, but the main setting and focus is the United States.The various settings introduced in the book influenced the characters invarious ways, but one instance of influence was great enough to cause his death.The accordion maker was literally ruled over by his setting. The setting aroundhim was one of oppression that worked against him because he was Sicilian.
The accordion maker saw the approaching men with searing clarity, the loosethread on a coat, mud-spattered trouser legs, a logging chain in a big hand,the red shine of the engorged faces, a man with one blue eye and one yellow eye.Even then he hoped to be saved. He was innocent!Pinse held his revolver loosely in his hand, had lost his staff in therush up the stairs, so crowded it had been, looked at the Sicilians knotted inthe corner, their wicked eyes glittering, some of them pleading and praying -the cowards! He thought of the rat king, fired. Others fired.A barrage of bullets and shot of every caliber and weight tore theSicilians. The accordion maker reared twice and fell back. A character thathas a great deal of intrigue is the accordion maker.
The most interesting factof this character is that he has no name, only an occupation. This is symbolicof all the millions of faceless immigrants that came to America in search oftheir dreams, but very few found them waiting, much less at all. …
He had histheory, his idea of the fine instrument; with the proof of this one, he plannedto make his fortune in La Merica. The accordion maker himself was a large man,but more sensitive that most like him. He despised working through problems andsimply let his wife handle them when she could. Once in La Merica, theaccordion maker had to deal with squalid living conditions, but when one manwanted an accordion like the one he had made for himself, the accordion makerreadily agreed.
Despite that squalid living conditions, the accordion makerstill had high hopes, … He was fortunate to have the room – many slept inthe streets and docks and every morning lifeless forms were carried away,throats slit and pockets turned inside out, even young children. All around himwere men who had to piss in their nettles.
The accordion maker is a sort ofintroduction to the rest of the characters in the story in that they all livelower-middle to lower class lifestyles, with barely any income, and one findsthat there is no epiphany or catharsis for the character, sometimes simplybecause you have the feeling he is ignorant of the truth, other times he diesbefore any resolution can be reached. One must remember that Accordion Crimesis a group of short stories that are bound together by an old accordion, withno character overlapping into two stories.The plot of Accordion Crimes is a difficult one to describe as it israther a collection of short stories and there is only one thing constant inevery story, which is the accordion.
Therefore, I have decided to write not ofthe overlying story, but of the journey of the accordion.The story begins with a Sicilian accordion maker and his dream of makinga fortune in La Merica. All he had is a green, two-row button accordion andsome money. He takes his son, Silvano, with him so that there might be enoughmoney for them to eat decently. The accordion maker ends up in the worst ofconditions along with having his pockets as good as empty, almost makes somemoney by selling an accordion, but is killed with 10 other innocent Italians bya lynch mob, and the accordion is stolen by a black dockworker who goes downthe Mississippi and sells the accordion to a Mr. Smith who owns a lumber shopin North Dakota for some food money.
The accordion is bought from the now lateMr. Smith by Hans Beutle, who, along with Ludwig Messermacher and William Loats,founded the town of Prank with their farms. Soon after, their children began togrow up and some married and some changed their names because of the difficultyof having a foreign name. The town prospered and Beutle took his money andbought a better accordion and gave the old two-row to Messermacher, but notbefore half of their families died of infinite causes ranging from mysteriousdiseases to rape to insanity to catching parachuting Japanese bombs to havinggoat glands transplanted so as to increase libido at around age 60 (HansBeutle’s fate). Messermacher puts the accordion in the bottom of a trunk andmoves to Coma, Texas to grow cotton after losing everything in the stock marketcrash. Soon, the accordion makes its way to a barber shop window where it isbought by a young Mexican boy named Abelardo who goes on to have four children,three of which learn to play the accordion, while the fourth died at war. Thedaughter, Felida, ran away from home at 17 and became one of the best folkaccordionists ever.
Chris loved to play the accordion but was killed in acourtroom by a furious father-in-law after being arrested for dope smuggling.Years preceding his death, Abelardo hid 12 thousand dollars inside theaccordion. Abelardo died of a spider bite that made him delirious and he playedlike a madman on the accordion for the last 20 seconds of his life. Baby cameto own the green accordion, but left it on the floor of a cab and couldn’tremember anything about the cab. The accordion was found by a man named CharlesGagnon who was abandoned during his childhood and grew up in an orphanage.
Aftersome time in the service, he returned to his hometown of Random. Not findinganything of his parents he meets an old friend from the orphanage, Wilf. Heeventually gets a house and makes a three man band with Wilf and his wife, Emma,whom Charles secretly lusts after.
One day, Charles mysteriously looses all useof his legs a couple months after Wilf died in a horrendous truck accident. Ata wedding that Emma gets Charles to go to, he meets Delphine, who takes him toa statue of St. Jude in the middle of nowhere that supposedly has healingpowers. Almost immediately, Charles is returned the use of his legs, and aftercareful consideration, kills himself, and his accordion is sold to a placecalled The Little Boy Blue Pawnshop to pay for the gravemarker with his name andlifespan that is destroyed in a plane crash 10 years later. The accordion isthen bought by Ivar Gasmann who collects antiques and has a little store in atown called Old Glory where he puts it for sale. Dick Cude buys the accordionfor the daughter of Conrad Gasmann, Ivar’s brother.
The daughter’s name is Velaand had the unfortunate accident of having her arms severed just below theelbow by a flying piece of sheet metal, and after she comes home, finds solacein Lawrence Welk for a while. After receiving the Accordion and the hundred orso tapes that Dick had, she is mortified and hates them all, and so they arethrown away, accordion and all. The accordion is rescued from the dump truck bythe drivers, who end up pitching it out the window anyway, and the accordion isthen found by some kids who pull out one of the thousand dollar bills, aretricked into thinking it is a one dollar bill by the old lady at the soda/gasstand, and buy a few sodas with it.The Accordion Crimes was a fantastic book and I enjoyed reading itimmensely because of the detail and amount of pictorial usage used allthroughout the novel.
Although there were only words in the book, at somepoints it was almost as if I was looking through a small mirror to the world inwhich all these things took place. I was also thoroughly impressed at the styleProulx uses in describing the disasters that befall the characters, as if theyaren’t important. There were times that I had to double check a page to see ifa certain character actually did die, which brings us to where I believed thebook was lacking. I sometimes had the feeling that everything had been said anddone, but the truth of the action was still in the obscured mind of the author,and I could not comprehend what was going on. I must admit though, that this inits entirety did actually add to the novel as the whole entire story wasn’ttold by the author.
A good deal of it is written by the reader. Anothercriticization of the book would easily be about the gloom of the entire thing. Many stories about immigrants in the 20th century tend to be uplifting, but notProulx’s. If one may criticize Accordion Crimes ever so milidly, it is only forits relentless existential bleakness. Theme was an element that the bookseemed to lack as a whole, unless you consider possibly that the accordionrepresents how we have no control over our lives, but how other people react tous decides our path.
ReferencesProulx, E. Anne. Accordion Crimes. Dead Line Ltd.
New York, New York. 1996Kanner, Ellen. Interview with Anne ProulxProMotion Inc. 1996 http://www.bookpage.com/Dirda, Michael. New World Symplony: Accordion CrimesSunday, June 16 1996.