This passage is from The Children's Bach by Helen Garner

Athena worked her way forward as far as the front row of non-dancers. She was blasted by noise but fired with curiosity. She could not tell which instrument was producing which sound, but she heard a guitar playing something that started as casually as water spilling over the lip of a basin and wondered if it was proceeding from Philip’s fingers; she heard a boy behind her roar to his friend, ‘They’re a bit guitary, aren’t they?’; she saw the fat-hipped keyboard player raise his wrists up high and move his lips like a slow reader; and with a piercing envy she saw Philip’s sociable demeanour, his raised head, his skipping turns, and the glances, the smiles of a tender complicity that passed between him and the others as they drowned themselves in sound.

At the first break Dexter forced his way through the shoulders to Athena and seized her elbow at the very moment her other arm was taken by Vicki fighting towards the bar. Vicki was glassy and smiling, Dexter frowning and wild-eyed. In their linked, three-way posture they might have been performing a country dance.

In the first part in bold:

  1. Does "keyboard player raise his wrist" mean "He raise his hands"?

  2. Does "his skipping turns" mean "when he turned his head quickly as he was playing"?

  3. Does "The smile of a tender complicity" mean "he had tender smile in accompany with other players"?

In the second part in in bold:

  1. Does "Vicki was glassy" mean "her face was shining"?

  2. Does "In their linked, three-way posture they might have been performing a country dance" mean: "they were standing in three-way posture that maybe unconsciously they would perform a country dance"?

1 Answer 1

  1. Yes. However, saying that specifically his wrists were raised implies they were raised higher than the rest of his hand, like in this picture:

    wrist is above the arm going down on one side and the hand in a vaguely claw-shaped grip on the other; it is like a tent

    This could be for extra flair when playing piano (keyboard), and the player can then dramatically slam/drop his hands down and the fingers will hit the keys with vigor.

  2. "Skipping" carries connotations of gaiety and lightheartedness, so this would imply the turns of his head were happily and freely. It also implies that he is turning back-and-forth with a certain jumpiness. Perhaps he is turning with the beat. This all fits with how he is "sociable".

  3. "Complicit" carries connotations of going against the rules, together. Their smiles which they share are "tender" - kind, caring - and "complicit" in this joy they are sharing. Perhaps it feels a bit rebellious to "drown in sound"; it is too loud for polite society but all are enjoying themselves together.

  4. "Glassy" can mean looking dull and lifeless, having little animation. Viki is smiling but looks lifeless - her face is dull with a polite smile plastered on the top. This is to contrast with Dexter, who is frowning but "wild-eyed", full of life and emotion.

  5. A country dance often involves groups of people performing intricate, wild movements together. Their "linked, three-way posture" is their position, with three bodies linked together (Dexter and Vicki both grab Athena). This line compares their complicated position to one that a group would take during a country dance. They "might have been" performing because the same position could be taken by country dancers, so in a different setting (namely, a country dance) their position would also be appropriate.

I would usually go into more detail on each of these but the sheer number of different questions means each answer is brief

  • Re the Skipping turns, you and Viser both mention Phillip's head, is there any reason to suppose that the phrase is referring to his head rather than the fact that he is moving on the stage, rather than just turning back and forth, which doesn't require movement of the feet? Feet being generally considered an important element of a person 'skipping'.
    – Spagirl
    Jun 11, 2021 at 16:53
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    I assumed it was Phillip's head because the question did so; I think it's unclear what is turning. To be quite honest I would rather not answer that part, but I felt that I needed to address it since it was in the question. I was more confident about my other 4 answers.
    – bobble
    Jun 11, 2021 at 16:54
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    I believe the intent is 1)
    – bobble
    Jun 11, 2021 at 22:09
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    "Skipping turns" could also be in the context of a long improvisational ensemble piece where each musician takes a "turn" at a solo. If Phillip declined to play a solo when it was his turn, then he would be "skipping a turn" and if he did it multiple times, then he would be "skipping turns." Not enough for an answer, but I don't mind if someone works it into theirs.
    – shoover
    Jun 11, 2021 at 22:59
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    It's metaphorical, comparing being in the middle of the music to being in the middle of the ocean - they are completely surrounded by music. Thus I deduced that the music was very loud. Music so loud it blocks other sound from reaching you is too loud for polite society.
    – bobble
    Jun 12, 2021 at 14:14

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