Wow. Truly. Author Tess Callahan’s debut novel, April & Oliver, is stunning. I’ve not
inhabited a novel so completely since Kent Haruf’s
Rather, I’ve not had one so fully inhabit me since then. It will be a long time before the
characters April and Oliver quiet themselves in my consciousness.
The story opens with the death of April’s brother in a car crash on a snowy Maine road. Buddy
was 18. April is eight years older; Oliver, her childhood friend and soul mate (but never lover),
is the same age as April. Oliver and April adored Buddy from the time he was a baby, showering him
with love, affection, and attention. For April, Buddy’s death is surreal, an unreality, and a cause
of crushing pain.
Oliver, who has been in California for the past several years, resurfaces in New York at Buddy’s
funeral. When Oliver and April make eye contact at the gravesite, it’s as if he’d never been gone;
he looks after her, as he’s always done. Never mind the fact that he’s engaged to be married to a
beautiful, kind, generous woman whom April feels is worthy of him.
Oliver, kind, perfect, steady Oliver, a pianist thrilling audiences at the age of 16, was awarded
a scholarship to Julliard, only to turn it down to enroll in law school. April has often come to
Oliver’s studio for the comfort his playing brings. It helps her cope with her demons. She urges
him to attend Julliard, law school is not who he is, but he’s firm. Why? What happened? He won’t
April is highly troubled; a good person seemingly predisposed to making cataclysmic choices,
especially in men. The unspoken closeness between April and Oliver is more than unresolved sexual
tension, more than sympathy. Are there words for their bond? Will it destroy them, or save them?
April & Oliver is a symphony of emotion, revelation, and exploration of the heart, a
performance one shouldn’t miss. Exquisite.