Editor’s note: This is the second of a series of reviews of books by authors scheduled to visit BookFestPa on July 14.
“Don Juan in Hankey, PA,” Gale Martin’s debut novel, balances readers on the tipping point of a small-town opera house and an eclectic guild trying to breathe new life into the art form and town by producing an unforgettable rendition of “Don Giovanni.”
The outrageous members of the guild drive the hilarity and the plot (which loosely mirrors the opera itself) forward to the eye-popping end.
“Don Juan in Hankey, PA” is set in present day and opens in an everyman’s small town exhibiting economic struggles and dwindling public interest in opera.
The guild of the wilting opera company makes a last-gasp attempt to produce “Don Giovanni” but they are foiled at every turn, starting with a clumsy assault on the guild’s luscious president by a mysterious “Il Cavaliere.”
Then, during a make-or-break interview, the would-be director succumbs to a heart attack and has a mysterious out-of-body experience where he communicates with the widow of a guild member.
This fast-paced beginning spirals into more bizarre twists when similar hijinks cause the lead in the opera to back out of his contract, leaving the guild high and dry without a Don Giovanni.
A true libertine is hired as a splashy replacement lead, and here the opera “Don Giovanni” completely blends into the plot of “Don Juan in Hankey, PA.”
Mysteries add up as love interests flare, ghosts abound and the show opening draws closer. Through it all, the guild members scramble to make this one pivotal show a success.
Martin has an expertise in describing opera in an interesting and readable way. She hosts a blog, Operatoonity.com, and is an accredited reviewer for Bachtrack, which surely informs her creative approach and authority on the topic of opera.
The novel’s straightforward prose doesn’t try too hard or show off, but rather swiftly moves readers along the twists and turns of a mystery-laced romp that at first seems like magical realism but turns into a paranormal tale of stageworthy proportions.
The flips and dips of the plot converge into an example of fiction reflecting that “everything happens for a reason.”
Martin captures a modern and irreverent voice and doesn’t hold back with fantastical arrangements of characters or operatic flourishes.
A highlight throughout the novel is the edgy threading of social commentary, mostly achieved through the character of guild president Deanna Lundquist.
Recently divorced and fighting to regain her sexual confidence, Deanna drives the show’s opening with the aplomb of an exotic dancer turned diplomat.
“Don Juan in Hankey, PA” sneaks up and grabs the reader in an unrelenting grip, much like the libertine himself, or the petulant ghosts of the small Hankey opera house. The book will insistently remind you, with operatic insights and behind-the-scene symbolism, of the show we’re all trying to pull off — life.
Megan Gregor’s fiction has been published in numerous literary journals and her short story “Signs” is a hot new release on Amazon.com. Follow her blog or contact her at www.gregorific.com.
Third annnual BookFest PA will be from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. July 14 at Schlow Centre Region LIbrary parking lot, 211 S. Allen St., State College. Visit www.bookfestpa.org.