Accordion Crimes: Dismal Reality Checks

Author: E. Annie Proulx

Accordion Crimes is a difficult book to place in a single time period
because the story takes place over about 100 years, originating in a small
Sicilian village, but the main setting and focus is the United States.
The various settings introduced in the book influenced the characters in
various ways, but one instance of influence was great enough to cause his death.
The accordion maker was literally ruled over by his setting. The setting around
him was one of oppression that worked against him because he was Sicilian. “…
The accordion maker saw the approaching men with searing clarity, the loose
thread on a coat, mud-spattered trouser legs, a logging chain in a big hand,
the red shine of the engorged faces, a man with one blue eye and one yellow eye.
Even then he hoped to be saved. He was innocent!
Pinse held his revolver loosely in his hand, had lost his staff in the
rush up the stairs, so crowded it had been, looked at the Sicilians knotted in
the corner, their wicked eyes glittering, some of them pleading and praying -
the cowards! He thought of the rat king, fired. Others fired.
A barrage of bullets and shot of every caliber and weight tore the
Sicilians. The accordion maker reared twice and fell back.” A character that
has a great deal of intrigue is the accordion maker. The most interesting fact
of this character is that he has no name, only an occupation. This is symbolic
of all the millions of faceless immigrants that came to America in search of
their dreams, but very few found them waiting, much less at all. “...He had his
theory, his idea of the fine instrument; with the proof of this one, he planned
to make his fortune in La Merica.” The accordion maker himself was a large man,
but more sensitive that most like him. He despised working through problems and
simply let his wife handle them when she could. Once in La Merica, the
accordion maker had to deal with squalid living conditions, but when one man
wanted an accordion like the one he had made for himself, the accordion maker
readily agreed. Despite that squalid living conditions, the accordion maker
still had high hopes, “... He was fortunate to have the room - many slept in
the streets and docks and every morning lifeless forms were carried away,
throats slit and pockets turned inside out, even young children. All around him
were men who had to piss in their nettles.” The accordion maker is a sort of
introduction to the rest of the characters in the story in that they all live
lower-middle to lower class lifestyles, with barely any income, and one finds
that there is no epiphany or catharsis for the character, sometimes simply
because you have the feeling he is ignorant of the truth, other times he dies
before any resolution can be reached. One must remember that Accordion Crimes
is a group of short stories that are bound together by an old accordion, with
no character overlapping into two stories.
The plot of Accordion Crimes is a difficult one to describe as it is
rather a collection of short stories and there is only one thing constant in
every story, which is the accordion. Therefore, I have decided to write not of
the overlying story, but of the journey of the accordion.
The story begins with a Sicilian accordion maker and his dream of making
a fortune in La Merica. All he had is a green, two-row button accordion and
some money. He takes his son, Silvano, with him so that there might be enough
money for them to eat decently. The accordion maker ends up in the worst of
conditions along with having his pockets as good as empty, almost makes some
money by selling an accordion, but is killed with 10 other innocent Italians by
a lynch mob, and the accordion is stolen by a black dockworker who goes down
the Mississippi and sells the accordion to a Mr. Smith who owns a lumber shop
in North Dakota for some food money. The accordion is bought from the now late
Mr. Smith by Hans Beutle, who, along with Ludwig Messermacher and William Loats,
founded the town of Prank with their farms. Soon after, their children began to
grow up and some married and some changed their names because of the difficulty
of having a foreign name. The town prospered and Beutle took