Paul Headrick's That Tune Clutches My Heart

This is an excerpt from a longer response to this work which can be viewed on Buried In Print.


In That Tune Clutches My Heart, it’s 1948 in Vancouver, and the great debate at Magee High is about Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby.


The Frankians and Bingites probably can’t describe their reasons for choosing alliances any more clearly than I could define key aspects of my own identity as a teenager, but their loyalties are fierce and immovable.


"Dear Diary,
Iris is not musical, but she knows how she looks in a pleated skirt and bobby socks, so she is a Frankian, and she and Sylvia will no longer sit by each other. Miss Hanratty seems not to have noticed this change in the seating plan. I am Switzerland for now, and I walked home alone."


May’s experience in senior high is recorded in a diary which her mother gave her to encourage “the habit of observation and reflection and so develop my gift…which is literary”.


Perhaps taking her cue from the seriousness with which her parents approach life in general, May’s tone is measured and deliberate. Her diary entries are often only one paragraph long, though sometimes as long as five, and her voice is controlled, almost awkward at times, in an effort to structure her thoughts properly.


This is a tumultuous time of life (even without the stressful debate surrounding her status as a “neutral” in this musical war), but her efforts to represent her experiences clearly and accurately on the page keep the content even.


The sort of reader who requires a more immediate view of the plot in a novel might find May’s voice distancing (even more so than is usually the case with novels told in diary entries).


But for the reader who is predisposed to enjoy this format, the reader who appreciates subtle shifts in style more than dramatic plot twists, there is something peculiarly satisfying about recognizing the swell of emotion that results in May ending a sentence with a preposition (and commenting on such “transgressions”, overtly refusing to correct the dangling bits).