Phantom's Reprise (2005)
by Marsha Stewart
You might be thinking that of course this book is going to make me mad, because it's clearly using one of the stock covers from Lulu's self-publishing portfolio, and it's clearly published post-2004 and is solely about Gerard Butler’s masculine wiles, and it's a staple-bound oversized sheaf of paper rather than being actually firmly bound, and all of these things are true. But, sadly, this book is making me mad for an entirely different reason than any of those, except possibly the staples because staple binding is a crime and do you want to have to preserve things after years of rust degradation? Because that’s how you make that happen.
First, for proper background, let me share with you the back cover copy:
"You say that you know the Phantom? Maybe.
Maybe you have heard the Music of the Night. Maybe you understood his passion. Maybe you felt his pain. Maybe you sensed his hopelessness.
But do you know the Phantom?
What happened after that faitful night at the Paris Opera? What happened to the man of mystery, to the man pushed beyond all reasonable expectations of civilized people?
Here, for the first time ever, the factual account of Erik, after the opera. Afte the mask was forever removed. After the dawn of the next day - now you may know the Phantom."
Now you might think that the book is going to make me mad because it's wildly overdramatic and makes hilarious spelling errors, but you would be wrong again.
First of all, let me preface that I think this was published in 2005, but I can't be sure; it lacks any publishing information in the book itself, which is pretty common for old self-published volumes, and it has been taken down from the Lulu site since I bought it and is no longer available there. Normally I'd feel smug that I got a Phantom book before it went out of print...
Stewart apparently doesn't really know what's going on with dates, either, because the first page states that the story is set in "1905 (or 1911-to be decided)". At any rate, it's set a few decades after the events of Leroux's novel at the opera house auction that the Lloyd Webber musical uses as a framing device for the story.
The events of the story themselves are a little overdramatic, particularly when local Parisians are SO EXCITED to get to this auction that the doors of the opera house nearly give (serious business!), but Stewart's description of wheelchair-bound Raoul (clearly borrowed from the Lloyd Webber version of the show, though not the 2004 film if the opera house is still operating and not burnt down) is quite lovely, so much so that I'm going to quote it here:
"To the casual observer, his face was neither young nor old - on the surface it seemed somewhere in between - despite the sense of elderliness his body dynamics evoked. Yet, if seen up close, his features showed evidence that enough years had been lived to earn the wearied expression currently in place - yet something - some small, infinitely minute detail of his eyes, his mouth, his way of holding his head gave lie to the impression that he was elderly or beyond youth. His hair was a soft brown but had not begun receding from his brow, as if he had just begun the middle-age process. This, married to the creases that slashed his cheeks and forehead like deep welts of pain, made it difficult to put the two together and define his age."
It’s definitely not without awkwardness (in the next sentence she'll say that it was "uncertain to ascertain" something), but there's also a nicef lyric flow in there and a lot of good instinct when it comes to imagery. I love the idea throughout this passage and the next that Raoul, despite being an old dude in a wheelchair, is still somehow representative of youth and innocence, his original calling cards in Leroux's story. The assurance a few lines later that he's also good-natured and kind despite his presumed hardships in life is a nice addition to an overall picture of a man I'd like to know something about. Lay it on me, Stewart! I'm with you! I'd particularly like to know what her take on his wheelchair is - she mentions him in passing as "handicapped" at one point, and likewise later refers to his "twisted legs", but whether this is a result of disease, injury, or merely his befuddling age is a mystery. (I’d have guessed gout, what with him being an aristocrat.)
It turns out that the nurse attending on him is none other than Meg (who has red hair in this version - it's nice to see someone break the blonde mold!), who is pleasantly described as a little bit matronly but obviously still in good shape from her years of fitness as a dancer. She and Raoul, from what little we see of them, appear to have a rather touching relationship, one that has obviously included years of working together. Meg has no trouble being ready to take care of Raoul's needs and he in turn seems to trust and feel comfortable with her. I'm totally ready to plumb that relationship, too, Stewart. Take me with you!
The auctioneer starts taking bids for "a papier mache music box in the shape of a barrel monkey" and I start envisioning a simian of truly epic girth. Raoul isn’t put off, though, and after successfully purchasing the music box, he beings peering intently and almost fearfully at the chandelier about to be unveiled. He further hears a voice whisper, "Remember"...
And then the book is over. That's the end.
Which is a tragedy, because I want more! This isn't a story at all - it's just the first chapter of one! It's not a reprise as the title suggests - it's barely the first four bars of a reprise! We've been cheated.
I am not immune to the nice idea of Raoul as the only keeper of the memory of the Phantom and the events of Leroux's novel, here at the end of his life, but unfortunately that's really not the vibe I'm getting here - it's just as if Stewart has accidentally published only her first chapter, rather than actually finishing what she was doing. The back cover copy is just flat-out lying to us about what's in this little book. If this were published any more in the modern day, I’d be suspicious that it was someone trying to make a quick buck by stealing someone else’s fanfiction and self-publishing it for the unwary, but that was harder to do back in the days of print-only self-publishing.
So I have no idea if this was meant to be continued and just never was, or if someone yanked Stewart's first chapter and published it without her knowledge, or even if this was really meant to be the end and it was just bungled very thoroughly. All I know is that this is sad times, and that despite the glimmers of something very readable and interesting being set up, I can't endorse anything that doesn't bother to at least come up with a satisfying ending.