Chapel of Ease by Alex Bledsoe
“When Matt Johanssen, a young New York actor, auditions for ‘Chapel of Ease,’ an off-Broadway musical, he is instantly charmed by Ray Parrish, the show’s writer and composer. They soon become friends; Matt learns that Ray’s people call themselves the Tufa and that the musical is based on the history of his isolated home town. But there is one question in the show’s script that Ray refuses to answer: what is buried in the ruins of the chapel of ease?
As opening night approaches, strange things begin to happen. A dreadlocked girl follows Ray and spies on him. At the press preview, a strange Tufa woman warns him to stop the show. Then, as the rave reviews arrive, Ray dies in his sleep.
Matt and the cast are distraught, but there’s no question of shutting down: the run quickly sells out. They postpone opening night for a week and Matt volunteers to take Ray’s ashes back to Needsville. He also hopes, while he’s there, to find out more of the real story behind the play and discover the secret that Ray took to his grave.
Matt’s journey into the haunting Appalachian mountains of Cloud County sets him on a dangerous path, where some secrets deserve to stay buried.”
I think that this book may turn out to be my favorite of the Tufa series thus far. I was a little disappointed with the last one, Long Black Curl, and it made me a little afraid for the direction the series was going. I’m happy to say that my fears were unfounded.
In many ways, this is a story about not letting the small things overshadow the bigger picture. Ray’s story-within-the-story contains a mystery at its heart: what is buried in the chapel of ease in Cloud County? Neither the actors nor the audience are supposed to know, and as the novel progresses it becomes an issue for the actors. They begin to insist that they can’t play their parts correctly unless the secret is revealed to them. The main character, Matt, even agrees to take Ray’s ashes home partly as a ploy to explore the mystery of the chapel. They overlook the fact that the play as a whole is a thing of beauty and can stand on its own merits; as a result, they nearly let their obsession interfere with that beauty.
I, personally, saw a deeper message within this novel as well. It concerns the relationship between the artist and his audience –and I’m using “artist” in the broadest sense of its meaning. When Ray tells his cast that the secret of what’s buried in the chapel doesn’t make any difference to the story as a whole, not only do they not believe him, but they eventually start demanding an answer. For me, this brought to mind some of the issues that have arisen in the digital age. Fans can interact with their favorite artists or movie stars or musicians, and this often brings a feeling of connection not only with the artist but with their work. Some people take that too far though, and begin to feel that they are owed something. And whether that something is attention, influence over the story, or a reckoning of time spent creating their art, there are those who feel completely okay making these demands. In this book, the actors are not okay with Ray withholding information from them and push for an answer. Part of Matt’s journey, and his development as a character, revolves around the fact that his interactions with the Tufa show him the importance of taking art as it is presented. He has learned to accept what he sees and hears. With all the ways that artists are being impinged upon in recent years, I could only hope that this view becomes more prevalent.
Several characters from previous books make appearances, and there are some references events to that came before, but I think this book could be a good introduction to the series. With the main character from outside the Tufa culture, yet still familiar with music written by one of them, he helps to provide the perfect entry into this world. As the progression of the series lead readers deeper and deeper into the world of the Tufa, I think this outsider’s perspective benefited the story greatly. I love being immersed in an alien culture, but once I’m familiar with it, there’s value in taking the step back to look at it from a different angle. The fresh perspective allowed me to get drawn in all over again.
With my love for this series renewed, I eagerly await whenever Bledsoe has up his sleeves for the next couple of books. Whether you’ve been following this series or whether you’re a new reader, Chapel of Ease is a pure delight to read.
This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
(Description nicked from Goodreads.com.)