BLUE BOSSA by Bart Schneider


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 A heartfelt debut, by The Hungry Mind Review's editor, about a burnt-out jazz musician who's obviously modelled on the brilliant, self-destructive trumpeter-vocalist Chet Baker. The story occurs in and around San Francisco in 1974, when Patricia Hearst was kidnapped--an event that absorbs Schneider's characters almost obsessively. Protagonist Ronnie Reboulet, ``pushing fifty,'' is drug-free at last but left with a mouthful of false teeth and a horn that's been locked away for some five years. Ronnie's ex-wife ``Cat'' willingly crashed and burned along with him. Now their daughter Rae, herself beginning a career as a jazz singer, struggles also to raise her racially mixed four-year-old, the product of her affair with a handsome black kid she met at Altamont. Ronnie's currently quiet life (working at a golf course, living with Betty Millard, a goodhearted nurse who has survived mastectomy, unhappy marriage, and bereaved motherhood) is disturbed when Rae and son reenter it, and as he's gradually persuaded that he's ``frozen inside a tree of unplayed music.'' Following this extended exposition, the novel riffs through short chapters describing Ronnie's, Rae's, and Betty's experiences and reminiscences, and the relevance of the Patty Hearst theme grows clearer, hinting at the question of whether people can separate themselves from their loved ones so decisively that there's no way back. Schneider knows his subject, and all the right tunes, but the account of Ronnie's imperfect rejuvenation is miked, as it were, too high. There are actually scenes that suggest both Christ's agony in the wilderness, and a ``baptism'' that accompanies Ronnie's return to playing in public. Conversely, the story does trail off into a perfectly modulated downbeat ending. A better-than-decent try, but more emotion than technique is displayed in this first solo effort.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-670-87695-X
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 1998


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