The beloved actor and screenwriter's second novel, set in 1903, stars a young concert violinist named Jeremy Webb, who one day goes from accomplished adagios with the Cleveland Orchestra to having a complete breakdown on stage. If he hadn't poured a glass of water down the throat of a tuba, maybe he wouldn't have been sent to a health resort in Badenweiler, Germany. But it's in that serene place that Jeremy meets Clara Mulpas, whom he tries his hardest to seduce.
Clara is so beautiful that Jeremy finds it impossible to keep from trying to find a chink in her extraordinary reserve and elegance. He finds himself reflexively flirting to get a reaction—after all, a tease and a wink have always worked before, with women back home. But flirting probably isn't the best way to appeal to a woman who was married to a dumb brute and doesn't want to have anything more to do with men. Jeremy isn't sure how to press his case—but he won't give up.
Wilder's prose is elegant, spare and affecting. But it's his romantic's eye for the intense emotions that animate a real love story that makes The Woman Who Wouldn't an unforgettable book.
Wilder's short second novel, following the similarly semifarcical My French Whore, takes a poignant and whimsically romantic poke at turn-of-the-last-century Europe's privileged gentry. When British concert violinist Jeremy Spencer Webb snaps, pouring water down a tuba and pounding the Steinway during a performance, he is sent to a health resort in the German Black Forest to recover. There, under the care of the orchestra director's brother, Dr. Karl Gross, Jeremy meets his idol, the consumptive Anton Chekhov, and an elusive "cute Belgie" named Clara Mulpas. His treatment, a regimen of rigorous walks, long baths, fine dining and the local white wine, is put to the test when he is asked to play with the string quartet that entertains the guests during dinner. The episode ends badly, but helps deepen his friendship with Chekhov. Jeremy also grows closer to Clara: struggling to restrain his normally flirtatious impulse so as not to scare her off, he gradually wins her over, with unexpected results. Wilder lovingly depicts the miraculous joy and inevitable loss that liberate true emotion in Jeremy and his music.