Accordion Crimes by Annie Proulx caused a lively discussion and strong opinions at Heads and Tales bookclub on 23 January. Written in eight parts , the novel tells the story of immigration to the USA through the vehicle of a small green Sicilian accordion which arrives in New Orleans in the late 1800s ending up 100 years later in Minnesota.
America’s ethnic minorities are rendered with Proulx’s unique blend of insight, detailed description, unsentimental candour and deadpan black humour. Each section contains short vignettes depicting the cultural baggage- attitudes, behaviors and social conditioning- that immigrants brought with them, and the degree to which they attempted to integrate or not. The suspicion and scapegoating of new immigrants by those more established ones, felt very contemporary.
At 540 pages, it’s a long read which some of us struggled to finish, largely due to frustration with Proulx’s perceived failure to adequately flesh out her multitudinous characters. Most of us found the early section on the German community engaging and admired her ear for dialogue across nationalities and eye for detail in the environment. Her ability to evoke a place, a period and an atmosphere impressed the majority, the weakness for some being the sheer amount of description.
Some objected to an unrealistic profusion of melodramatic events and bizarre, often very violent deaths whilst others felt she had accurately described the American underclass, particularly its non-native one, as particularly vulnerable and therefore prone to confrontation and early death.