Bellweather Rhapsody is a coming-of-age drama and whodunit mystery wrapped into a quirky dark comedy
Agatha Christie, The Shining, and Stephen King are all directly referenced in Kate Racculia’s sophomore effort. However, they are more than just reference because they shape the book itself. Bellweather Rhapsody is simultaneously a “whodunit” mystery, teenage coming-of-age dramedy, shifting character study, and even more. But Racculia balances the genres so deftly with her off-kilter characters that in the end, this odd comedic tragedy becomes something profound in the end.
Though Bellweather Rhapsody follows six main characters with countless minor characters, the main focus is a set of twins: the Hatmakers. Alice Hatmaker is a star on the rise. At least she thinks so. She even keeps a journal that she wants to eventually become her biography when her star has finally faded. For her, the world, the sun, and universe revolve around her. She doesn’t hope she will be a star, she knows she’s going to be. Her brother on the hand is a much more down-to-Earth teen who simply wants to get through life without embarrassing himself.
However, let me bring it back to the beginning. 1982 in the Bellweather hotel in upstate New York to be exact where a gruesome murder-suicide rocks the world of Minnie Graves. Not only does it leave a permanent scar on her delicate young psyche, it also shoves her head deep into the world of horror movies, which Racculia pulls heavily from. Fast forward to 1997 when the Hatmaker twins, stars of the school’s chorus and orchestra, are selected to join the Statewide music festival, the pinnacle of high school music in the state, at the Bellweather.
Alice, the more rambunctious and ambitious of the two, is looking forward to cementing her place as a star on the rise. Rabbit (Bertram), on the other hand, just wants to figure out a way to come out to his sister. Neither of them, along with their chaperone Natalie Wilson, quite know what the old beast of a hotel has in store for them.
The twins’ dynamic drives so much of the emotional heft of the book. Despite the world seemingly crashing down around them (or the hotel for that matter at least), what’s more devastating is the prospect of the Hatmaker twins not being together as the shadow of college approaches them. This triggers two entirely different responses from them, which leads to two distinct coming-of-age stories.
While the complex whodunit mystery is the main plot that connects the characters, it’s the study of them that makes the book so compelling. There’s Natalie who has to come to terms with her guilt. Rabbit who is trying to find the right time to come out to his sister and come out of her shadow. Alice comes to terms with her imminent stardom possibly not being so imminent. The hotel is simply an incubator for these people to grow up and grow past their hardships in life.
What I love most about the book is that it doesn’t play slave to its genre’s boundaries. Yes, it’s a mystery. Yes, it’s a dark comedy. Yes, it’s a coming-of-age drama. But the mystery isn’t filled with red herrings and it doesn’t try to throw you off its trail. The dark comedy doesn’t tread on desperation. The coming-of-age doesn’t feel melodramatic. Plus, it’s all tied together by Racculia’s ability to emote so beautifully through her words:
“This is why. This is why. This is why he plays, why he loves, why he listens. It isn’t even a high — a high is too low — it is synchronicity, with the universe. Physical proof of the three-part harmony between body and soul and song, all three living, dying, resonating.”
Sometimes her writing meanders through self-introspection instead of forwarding the plot, which sometimes slips out from under you, but the story and trajectory itself are so unpredictable that in the end, you feel satisfied. And it you are someone who loves twists, they are carried out so beautifully here. While she drifts when it comes to characters, she trusts her reader enough not to over explain the story and that’s something that is so sadly rare these days.
Bellweather Rhapsody is a crowd-pleaser like no other. It balances its genres in a way that it becomes something entirely different in itself. It’s compulsively entertaining, thrilling, and sometimes even downright hilarious. There are books that you can read in one sitting, then there the ones that you need to read in one sitting. Bellweather Rhapsody is the latter. You won’t be able to put it down.