Marley's genre-crossing tale of music and healing is built, literally, around the human bones found beneath Benjamin Franklin's London abode. Eilish Eam, an Irish orphan from Seven Dials, is saved from a life of squalor when Franklin hears her playing musical glasses on the street. Eilish is taken into Franklin's household to help tune, and then to play, his latest invention--the glass harmonica. But though Eilish is enamored of the instrument, enjoys the comfort of Franklin's house, and delights in a friendship with renowned harpsichordist Marianne Davies, she cannot divorce herself from her past or the handicapped child, Mackie, whom she left behind.
Complementing Eilish's tale is that of Erin Rushton. Erin is a musical prodigy, the greatest contemporary player of the glass harmonica--an instrument that, in 2018, has become fashionable again due to the wave of nostalgia sweeping the country. Erin's America is the product of civility laws run amok. Cities have been "reclaimed"--and very nearly turned into theme parks of the past--while the unsightly poor have been removed to vast tent cities.
Erin has recently been troubled by an apparition, first seen when she plays Franklin's original harmonica in Boston. To add to her stress, Erin's twin brother, stricken by a neurological disorder and wheelchair-bound since childhood, has recently begun an experimental and potentially dangerous therapy under the direction of Gene Berrick, a young doctor struggling to overcome the taint of his tent-city upbringing.
As the tale progresses, Eilish and Erin glimpse each other more frequently, at first fearfully, and later affectionately, as they help each other understand the healing properties of their instrument.
It's been said that writing about music is like dancing about architecture, but Marley's background as an opera singer informs the rehearsal and concert scenes with great vitality.
Marley has packed The Glass Harmonica with enough ideas for several novels. She has intriguing things to say about the relationships between music, emotion, and health, and about the seemingly unbridgeable gap between privilege and poverty; but these parts somehow fail to make up a satisfying whole, and leave many questions--particularly about Erin's world--unanswered. --Eddy Avery