Author Amy Poeppel ‘wanted a challenge’ with book ‘Musical Chairs’ that explores family dynamics
Author Amy Poeppel learned this spring that life indeed imitates art. In her newest book, which was released July 21 (Atria/Emily Bestler Books), the main character, Bridget Stratton, is expecting a quiet summer with her beau but instead life becomes topsy turvy as her adult children come home and a parade of new people come into her life. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, New York City-based Poeppel has been living in her summer home in Kent since March and her adult children have moved in. “I did not anticipate that happening when I wrote the book,” she said.
The book is a bit of a comedy but at its heart is a family story that explores what happens when family members are caught up in a game of musical chairs, switching places within the traditional family structure. Bridget and her longtime best friend Will are two-thirds of a classical music trio, trying to find a new member to join the group. Moving into her summer house, which needs a lot of work, Bridget has to now deal with her children and their lives in flux as well as fix her own heart (and home). Her beau has dumped her and her octogenarian father suddenly announces he is getting married.
“I came to realize that a lot of what was happening in this book was that the characters were taking each other’s places and fighting for a place in the family,” she said. “Bridget’s best friend Will, in particular, sort of has a seat at the family table all the time and there’s a point in the book where he sort of wonders if he is going to lose his chair.”
Despite the plethora of characters in the book, all are highly well-developed and they all get their due in the book. “It was difficult but it was also a really lovely challenge. I really wanted this cast of characters that are all sort of thrown together in this removed place,” she said. “I wanted each of them to be developed enough that if I put a chapter in their voice, it would feel different.”
The chapters of the book are arranged with its own musical meter with Bridget getting a chapter, then Will, and every third chapter is devoted to a key character to flesh out his/her story. An exception is the one character who gets three chapters but you will have to read the book to find out who and why that is.
As the book is set in the musical world with several of the characters being professional musicians, music plays a key role in the book. The title even has a double meaning that Poeppel discovered after titling her book early on in the writing process as Bridget and her musical partner, Will, are trying to hire a violinist to fill the empty chair in their trio. Musical Chairs is a real website to hire music professionals, the LinkedIn of the music business so to speak, so it also becomes part of the plot.
“The musical connotation obviously is important,” said Poeppel while noting the irony of writing a book about music business when she is not musically minded. “I do not have a background or education in music but did an enormous amount of research. I have three kids that somehow in spite of my lack of ability, talent or background, they are all very musical and two of them are pursuing music professionally. It’s been in my mind for a while that I wanted to write a book that was set in the music world.”
Of the different relationships in the book, the most exciting for her to write was between Will and Bridget. “I wanted to explore this idea of a man and a woman who are very good friends and there is never any romantic or sexual tension in the book,” she said. “I know a lot of people who have read it wondered if they were going to end up together at the end and I just did not want to do that. I just wanted to take this idea as far as I could, that men and women can be friends — the ‘Harry Met Sally’ trope turned on its head.”