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

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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LAST ORDERS

Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of...

FIREFLY LANE

Lifelong, conflicted friendship of two women is the premise of Hannah’s maudlin latest (Magic Hour, 2006, etc.), again set in Washington State.

Tallulah “Tully” Hart, father unknown, is the daughter of a hippie, Cloud, who makes only intermittent appearances in her life. Tully takes refuge with the family of her “best friend forever,” Kate Mularkey, who compares herself unfavorably with Tully, in regards to looks and charisma. In college, “TullyandKate” pledge the same sorority and major in communications. Tully has a life goal for them both: They will become network TV anchorwomen. Tully lands an internship at KCPO-TV in Seattle and finagles a producing job for Kate. Kate no longer wishes to follow Tully into broadcasting and is more drawn to fiction writing, but she hesitates to tell her overbearing friend. Meanwhile a love triangle blooms at KCPO: Hard-bitten, irresistibly handsome, former war correspondent Johnny is clearly smitten with Tully. Expecting rejection, Kate keeps her infatuation with Johnny secret. When Tully lands a reporting job with a Today-like show, her career shifts into hyperdrive. Johnny and Kate had started an affair once Tully moved to Manhattan, and when Kate gets pregnant with daughter Marah, they marry. Kate is content as a stay-at-home mom, but frets about being Johnny’s second choice and about her unrealized writing ambitions. Tully becomes Seattle’s answer to Oprah. She hires Johnny, which spells riches for him and Kate. But Kate’s buttons are fully depressed by pitched battles over slutwear and curfews with teenaged Marah, who idolizes her godmother Tully. In an improbable twist, Tully invites Kate and Marah to resolve their differences on her show, only to blindside Kate by accusing her, on live TV, of overprotecting Marah. The BFFs are sundered. Tully’s latest attempt to salvage Cloud fails: The incorrigible, now geriatric hippie absconds once more. Just as Kate develops a spine, she’s given some devastating news. Will the friends reconcile before it’s too late?

Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of poignancy.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-312-36408-3

Page Count: 496

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2007

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