Book: That Tune Clutches My Heart
On the eve of her first day of senior high, May Sutherland’s mother gives her a diary in which to record her experiences. It’s 1948 and the entire student body at Magee High in Vancouver is divided according to their preference for Bing Crosby or Frank Sinatra. After losing her two best friends overnight, May struggles between her disdain for the debate and her loneliness as one of only a handful of neutrals.
At home her parents, both university professors, are absorbed in their own work while maintaining the semblance of a happy household. Parked in front of the living-room console, May conducts an extensive comparison of the two singers, only to find her questions one day answered by a different kind of music altogether.
The diary entries reveal May’s commitment to being genuine and truthful, and her attempts to match her parents’ poise while passing for a normal teenager in the process. In the often hilariously rigid turns of phrase with which May records her misunderstandings and attempts at maturity, Headrick captures the inner life of a good girl coming of age.
“The mother of a friend of mine remembers a bitter conflict from her high-school days in the late forties,” says Headrick. “Apparently, the hostilities in those days between the young fans of Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra make later battles between mods and rockers or punks and metalheads look like, well, kid stuff. I’m tempted to dismiss such conflicts; it’s easy for me to think of them as nothing more than expressions of an out-of-control will to belong and exclude. The story of the rivalry between the fans of the Crooner and the Swooner, however, got me thinking. One of my impulses in writing That Tune Clutches My Heart was to explore the idea that in some cases there is important substance behind what might seem like meaningless though very deeply felt antagonisms. May comes to believe that something complicated and crucial is involved, at least in the case of the battle between the Bingites and Frankians. The theories she comes up with, leading from music, to sex, to family, are for me a key part of the novel, and part of what makes me think of May as a hero.”
This book is a smyth-sewn paperback. The text is typeset in Electra and printed offset on laid-finish paper making 160 pages trimmed to 4.5 by 7 inches, bound into a paper cover and enfolded in a letterpress-printed jacket. The jacket features an original illustration by Wesley Bates.
Finalist for the 2009 Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize.