Bel Canto

by: Ann Patchett

Roxanne Coss

When Roxanne Coss sings, her voice is at once “reckless and controlled.” People love her for her fearlessness and her ability to capture life’s pain and beauty in song. Many men who hear Coss sing declare their love for her, although they hardly know her. Until she falls in love with Katsumi Hosokawa, Coss is a woman who receives love without giving love in return.

Coss is flattered by her fans’ admiration, and she enjoys being a star. When she is taken hostage, she believes that whatever may happen to everyone else, she will survive because she is special. Her stardom is an essential part of her identity. Still, the professions of love from near-strangers sometimes annoy Coss. Like many artists, Coss wants the world to love her for her art but is irked when people love her too eagerly or too invasively.

At first Hosokawa, like the others, loves Coss for her singing, and her talent never ceases to enthrall him. But Hosokawa and Coss grow to find a deep comfort with each other that is different from the one-sided adoration and adulation that characterizes Coss’s relationship with her fans. Roxanne Coss says, “If someone loves you for what you can do, then it’s flattering . . . but if they love you for who you are, they have to know you, which means you have to know them.” Once Coss finds love with Hosokawa, she is able to love Cesar, the young terrorist who aspires to be a great singer. During their lessons, her desire to be a star is temporarily replaced by her desire to help someone else. One love begets another.