2016-03-01 - Limelight Magazine - March 2016

By Gordon Hamilton
Original Review

The piano – both the object and its sound – is central to Jack Kohl’s That Iron String. A refined and deliciously-entangled thriller, the novel addresses the risk, jubilation and uncertainty of becoming a concert pianist, a decision that author Jack Kohl– himself a professional pianist – presumably understands.

On a cold night, two boats are found tied to a pier between the coasts of Connecticut and Long Island. Aboard one of the stranded boats – engine still purring – are found three dead bodies and two infant boys. These two cousins, Portsmouth and Boston, are raised in Pauktaug by relatives, the Gourds, who run a family funeral parlor business. Both boys grow up with the piano, though one turns out to be vastly more gifted than the other. The boys part ways to pursue careers as concert pianists. The day comes when, at the Gourd’s suburban home, a disassembled grand piano arrives by delivery truck. Following years of separation, the cousins return to the scene of their childhood to prepare for a piano contest.

Kohl has commented on his jumping-off point for the plot: “What if I had a pianist who knows there is nothing he can do to be playing better than he is and is still very idealistic... He wants to persist... but his career begins to wane in competitions... and he doesn’t understand why; who or what is to blame? He starts to develop this anger... where is this anger to go?” Kohl explores complex layers of rivalry, family loyalty and the struggle between man and art. The dilemma of what to do with a talent that is simultaneously the best you have to offer – and also not quite enough – is presented by Kohl with understanding and honesty.

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