BLUE FRUIT by Adam Lively


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A promising first novel that cleverly puts an 18th-century Englishman ashore in 20th-century Harlem--with amusing (if a bit predictable) results. John Field, an ""errant traveller,"" is a surgeon from a South Seas whaler; but the plot quickly gets him into the 20th century, where he's taken in by a black family. Tommy, one member of the family, is a sax player, and Field, able to play the violin, takes quickly to jazz. The story then settles into a comfortable pattern that alternates between instances of black family life (stiffly rendered at times, as though written 40 or 50 years ago--Lively's ear for black dialects is uncertain) and jazz passages (deftly done, especially in the way they match Field's taste for adventure with his appreciation for jazz improvisation). Predictably, the Englishman gets stoned and, promising to watch over sister May (May: ""I guess there was something strange about you. . .Like you were an innocent""), ends up with the job she wanted, working for ""Mr. S____"" in the ""information business."" When May be-comes hostile, Field leaves the family briefly to live with ""Mr. S____"" and taste middle-class suburban life (the ensuing satire is Kafka-flavored but too derivative for much notice). Bored, he returns to the family, and they take him in. Lively stretches a good yarn into a short novel, when a longish short story might have better served its subject. The irony is easy and always flagged from a mile away, and the novelty wears thin rather quickly. Still, despite transparent moments and too much padding, he mostly pulls it off.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1989
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly--dist. by Little, Brown