The Songs


Publication Date: Jun 06, 2017

336 pp

Hardcover

List Price US $24.95
Trim Size (H x W): 5.5 x 8.25
ISBN: 978-1-59051-799-4

Ebook

List Price US $14.99
ISBN: 978-1-59051-800-7


A heart-breaking choice made 60 years earlier by folk legend Iz Herzl leaves an indelible mark on the next generation.

The Songs tells the extraordinary story of Iz Herzl, famed political activist and protest singer, who has always told his children that it is the future not the past they should concentrate on. Now, at 80, an almost forgotten figure, estranged from everyone who has ever loved him, his refusal to look back on his life leaves his teenage children, the brilliant Rose and her ailing younger brother, Huddie, adrift in myths and uncertainty that cause them to retreat into a secret world of their own.

Iz’s other child, Joseph, a faltering Broadway songwriter 40 years older than Rose and Huddie, whose one disastrous meeting as a child with his father has left him lost and alone, is on a shocking and violent path to self-destruction. When the disparate members of the Herzl family finally meet, the ambiguities at the heart of Iz Herzl’s life begin to surface in a way that will change all of them.



Excerpt from The Songs

My brother Huddie said that we must be in the very small percentile of people who had a mother who fell out of the same window twice. Even animals don’t do that: they learn from experience. [ . . . ]

He had done some research on falling. He had found out that it is better if your body is floppy, but the problem is that you instinctively tense up in a dangerous situation like falling out of a window and that’s why bones get broken and people get killed. Being drunk—like our mother was—can sometimes help you: the cognitive processes are slower and the tensing-up instinct does not kick in so quickly and that can save your life. It certainly did for our mother the first time she fell: no bones were broken. Her spleen was ruptured, but luckily that wasn’t an organ in constant use, unlike her liver.

Of course, being drunk is not an infallible method of falling from a window safely. Our mother was also drunk the second time, but she fell differently and her head hit the pavement first. She was in a coma for three days before they switched off the machine. Iz told us he had taken us to the hospital to see her but, because I was only three and Huddie two, we did not remember it. That was almost the only thing he ever told us about our mother, and we knew better than to ask him.


The Songs is a compelling and surprising novel about a family defined and separated by a musical legacy. Charles Elton is a writer of unusual intelligence and emotional insight, moving with ease from one viewpoint to another, building a collective portrait that is both complex and convincing.” —Tom Perrotta, author of Little Children and The Abstinence Teacher      

Praise for Mr. Toppit:

“This debut novel examines the unexpected consequences of literary fame…Elton takes a familiar course—dark familial secrets will out—but distinguishes it with a tender, wry treatment of his characters.” —The New Yorker

“Elton’s careful handling of a complex and thickly populated plot bears some resemblance to that of Jonathan Coe, with whom Elton shares a darkly humorous perspective on English life.” —Boston Globe

“Elton’s wry commentary on the business of iconography throws a deftly aimed wrench at the publicity machine that can be found beneath many of our most cherished cultural totems.” —Vogue.com

Mr. Toppit doesn’t seem to be intended as a cautionary tale…but Elton brilliantly presents the betrayal, the horror, of being used.” —New York Times Book Review