An engaging, melancholy, and uneasy journey through the recesses of the Big Easy.

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SLEEPYTIME DOWN SOUTH

A musician’s impromptu trip to New Orleans leads to a glimpse of the future and a reckoning with his past in this novel.

Music is Peter “Maz” Mazewski’s life, and he is always on the lookout for something new. A talented clarinet player, in the early 1960s, he is named “the Benny Goodman of his generation.” Not content to bask in the glow of the appellation, Maz begins playing alto sax, earning a Grammy nomination. But by 1982, Maz has lost his groove and decides to leave his Chicago home and go to New Orleans. On the train, he encounters a group of men. Most are young and black except for an older white man who holds sway over the group. Trouble finds Maz the moment he enters the city. He’s robbed and then mugged of his cash. Undeterred, he finds a place to stay and starts looking up old friends. At a club, he reconnects with pianist Berta Bredeaux and meets Davis Leggit, the older man from the train. A DJ, Davis introduces Maz to a club that offers a new musical groove. Intoxicated by the changing city, Maz embarks on an exploration of New Orleans in search of the groove and Davis. Cannon’s (French Quarter Beautification Project, 2016, etc.) latest book is a character study of a man seeking to rediscover himself and his passion for music that moves with the pace of a keen psychological thriller. Maz is a complex protagonist; driven by the siren’s call of music, he’s willing to change instruments and styles seemingly on a whim. Music is a significant part of the narrative, and Cannon infuses the story with references to blues songs like “A Hundred Years from Today” and “Back O’Town Blues” and notable jazz musicians like Jack Teagarden and Fletcher Henderson. When Maz finally reaches New Orleans, he finds a city in transition; the places are familiar but new people, ideas, and dangers are beginning to alter the landscape. This tension is captured in a stroll Maz takes down Decatur Street. Years earlier, the street was known for its bars and prostitutes. The Decatur Street Maz walks down in 1982 is something far more respectable. He appreciates the thriving economy but believes it is inauthentic with its “loud, too forcibly upbeat forgeries of the local music.” His reunion with Berta provides insight into Maz’s love of music, and the scenes of her playing at a club called the Kozy Kove pulse with lively energy. Davis is a vivid and unforgettable part of Maz’s trajectory. A DJ and purveyor of pursuits that may or may not be legal or moral, he is the fulcrum of Maz’s final odyssey through the streets of New Orleans. Cannon’s narrative is a well-crafted page-turner suffused with a sense of foreboding. Maz’s destination feels inevitable and the author deftly captures the pathos as he slips from his friends, acquaintances, and, finally, sense of self.

An engaging, melancholy, and uneasy journey through the recesses of the Big Easy.

Pub Date: Dec. 31, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-60489-198-0

Page Count: 142

Publisher: Livingston Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 28, 2017

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in white society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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