The author of The Patron Saint of Liars (1992) takes risks in her absorbing second novel -- about a middle-aged black man who runs a blues club in Memphis -- which has a good beginning and end but a static middle. A young white woman named Fay Taft from east Tennessee comes into the club one night looking for a job. When she begins waiting tables there, her brother Carl -- who is involved in drugs -- also starts hanging around. They have a strange intimacy with the narrator, John Nickel; he feels protective of them, partly because he is far from his own son, Franklin, who is living in Miami with his mother, Marion. Fay reveals that she and Carl moved to Memphis after their father's death, and John begins imagining the life of this man (whom he always thinks of simply as ""Taft"") in passages that alternate with the main plot. Although the narrator's slow, laid-back cadences are well-realized, the story hits a lull before emerging into a more active ending. The relationship between Fay and John is never completely clear; when she reveals that she is about to turn 18 and proposes marriage, it is more of a shock than it ought to be. Furthermore, it seems unlikely that John, a former musician who recognizes immediately that Fay's brother is using drugs and can differentiate between his various highs, would not realize that Carl might be a dealer until someone else mentions it to him. On the other hand, memories of his early days with Marion, and the admission that not marrying her when she was 18 and pregnant was a far-reaching error, are remarkably straightforward and honest. A strikingly original and thoroughly conceived bluesy voice, though the story it tells has some holes in logic.