It doesn’t seem such a promising start to a friendship when Dirk steals Jan’s girlfriend. But before too long, Jan de Vries feels more at home at Dirk’s house in the city of Den Bosch than at his own in a village a cycle ride away. For years they’re inseparable, the more reticent Jan emboldened by his friend’s daredevil charisma, until, the day after Dirk’s drunken high-school graduation party, they go off to separate universities, Dirk to drama school in America, Jan to study piano at the Conservatory in Maastricht.
There’s another shadow over Jan’s work and love life, in the form of auditory attacks, disturbing discordant sounds that clash with the music he’s making at the keyboard. Neurological tests are inconclusive as the problem exacerbates to interfere with his performance on stage. His inability to confide in Lena is indicative not only of Jan’s anxiety and natural reserve but hints at a possible meaning rooted in his relationship with Dirk. But when Jan finally summons the initiative to seek out his friend in middle age, what he finds is not what he expects.
Despite the cacophony of music and the noises in Jan’s head, School of Velocity is a quiet meditation on love and friendship, ambition and compromise, and the journey from chaotic adolescence to the constraints of middle age. Although its scope is narrower, it was reminiscent of The Gustav Sonata in its focus on male friendship and unfulfilled desires. Thanks to One, an imprint of Pushkin press, for my review copy.
So, how do I navigate from here to the latest flash fiction challenge to write a 99-word story featuring longhorns. Well, contrary to my initial assumption that this prompts mines the depths of my ignorance about the American West, we do have longhorn cattle in the UK and, if I’d known this was coming two years ago when I was agonising about the placement of commas in my debut novel, Sugar and Snails, I might have changed the breed of bovine that freaked out my narrator on a country walk.
Squeezing the mouthpiece between her lips, Liesel exhaled. Two short blasts sandwiched between one long one, timed by the beating of her heart. Heads turned, foreheads creased at the woman-made incursion on the birdsong but, seeing the alphorn, longer than the instrumentalist was tall, they smiled and cocked their ears towards the distant hills, tuned for his reply. Nothing heard. She blew again without response save the call of a cuckoo. Red-faced, she tramped back to the car.
His hearing horn discarded on the backseat. Without it he could not hope to hear her call.