Contrapuntal motion is the general movement of two melodic lines with respect to one another. There are few variations within contrapuntal, being parallel, similar, oblique and finally, Contrary. Andy Mozina, ever the social dissident, has produced a work that moves in many different directions. It manages a solidarity that many strive to achieve. Mozina has a voice that speaks easily of the dark and laughs until it aches. It yearns towards Bellow’s Humboldt’s Gift, but it is swift in the manner of an iPhone. The ease at which the language flows in Andy’s work is one of the highest selling points. The social constructions that he works are just a simple perk and by product of reading a great dark comedy.
To begin, the protagonist doesn’t have any vowels in his last name. The portrait of the tortured artist seems to be a dead end plot, until Matt Grzbc rears his simple head. Modern times require that great works of art also be page turners; Grzbc encourages the reader to do just that. Sentences such as, “‘I know. Sorry,’ I mutter in a frequency only a dog might hear.” ring with truth of a desperate man, hanging on against hopelessness. Grzbc is really a talented and potentially incredible human being. His skill and contrary pathetic nature are on perfect display in almost every passage:
At the funeral mass, I play crushingly sad tunes at prelude time: “Clair de lune,” Gymnopedie no.1, “Moonlight Sonata.” I should be missing notes through my tears, buzzing strings, eventually tipping over the harp and running from the room with my hands over my face. But no. Like an anorexic who brings rich desserts to the picnic and smiles politely while others foolishly indulge themselves, I play with what feels like an expression of bland concentration, laying it on thick as scattered weeping breaks out in the congregation.
This is bleak. Grzbc makes no mistakes at his father’s funeral. He also doesn’t cry. But a chapter later, the jokes fly:
We pull up to my twoflat apartment building, which displays a blue “For Peace” sign in the tiny front yard, duly tagged by the Latin Kings, possibly not as a way of endorsing peace in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Many of Mozina’s quips and lines are pure gold. The above calls attention to social dilemmas, sure. There are conflicts in the great world, there are conflicts within our very own neighborhoods, but the greatest conflict is usually that with self. The scenes with Matt and his girlfriend Cynthia are always loaded with intelligence and insight into the conditions of dating. Contrary Motion juggles these themes with precision often resulting in comedy in the lurch forward towards death. In a recent reading, Mozina said that his work was “Hospice Metal” if it were to be given a title under the umbrella of deviant genres. It is a peek inside the world of that which is limp and pathetic with a great chuckle and a long sigh.
The everyman sensibility of a Philip Roth is always in full display throughout Contrary Motion. I can lend a lot of classics to this novel. There is a Rabbit, Run style of despair in the tale. The whole tale has been sewn together with the eloquence of our modern age. The wit is in the same family tree as Mark Twain. Watching Grzbc play the harp for patients dying in hospice is a philosophy lesson in nihilism and its solutions. In a scene with a man dying from HIV, Mozina displays a search for meaning:
I bring the harp in and take a look around the room for clues as to what he might like. His windowsills are filled with plants, and there’s an antique lamp on his nightstand. Next to the lamp, there’s an autographed blackandwhite head shot of, if I’m not mistaken, Paul Lynde, the snarky, barely, closeted center square on the old Hollywood Squares show.[ . . . ] I take him at his word and play the unexpected “Don’t Fence Me In,” which makes him smile with half his mouth.
“I am surprised,” he says, and he nods.
The picture of Paul Lynde sends me deep into my collection of cheesy pop.
Andy Mozina is a gem and his writing is a treat. Matt Grzbc is pathetic, and vulnerable just like me. And still we all push forward, toward our goals, against the treachery of our own self-created environments. This tale of an audition for an orchestra and all that can spin from one life-altering event is the story of humanity, alive with its dark heart, shining eyes and smiling with a “a career limiting amount of gums and tragically short teeth.”