A SOLITARY BLUE
This is the story of Jeff Greene, the guitar-playing high school boy Dicey Tillerman meets in Dicey's Song (1982)--but the connection isn't made until near the end. The story begins, matter-of-factly but with Kramer vs. Kramer pathos, when Jeff at seven finds his mother Melody's note explaining that she loves him but had to leave him to help the world's less fortunate and "make things better." Jeff is left with his stiff, expressionless father, "The Professor," who withdraws to his study (while Jeff, that first night, gets dinner) and appears unaware of his son--doing poorly at school, friendless, and a few years later, ill with pneumonia and an overlooked 104Â° fever. (This event shocks the father into a first, abstracted look.) The summer Jeff turns 12, his mother invites him to stay with her at her grandmother's house in Charleston; and though he doesn't see much of her he is overcome with love--cherishing her memory through the year, writing monthly unanswered letters, and buying a cheap used guitar because she had played one. There is a touching scene on Christmas when his father, who has grown a shade more attentive--thanks partly to the admonishment of his new friend Brother Thomas--presents Jeff with a superior guitar. Jeff must go to his father's study and convince him that it is just what he would have chosen. ("I'm sorry. I don't mean to be--emotional at you--I just--I just like it so much," says Jeff; and his father answers, "Thank you for taking the trouble to make that clear.") The next summer Jeff returns to Charleston, but sees even less of his mother--she is off on long trips with her dreadful boyfriend--and goes home dangerously withdrawn. The healing process begins several months later with a move from Baltimore to a Chesapeake Bay cabin he and his father choose together. Jeff does well at his new school, makes some friends, meets Dicey, and hangs out with the Tillermans--and he and his father, still reserved, become closer and easier with each other. Melody will visit twice, in a devious play for the inheritance her grandmother has left to Jeff, but by now he has hardened; the second time he is able to feel sorry for her. Later Jeff resolves his mixed heritage by deciding to go into ecology: "No, not saving the world or getting back to the good old prehistoric days, not that," he tells his father. "But responsible management of it, somehow. . . with computers too. . . ." This doubly simplistic resolution is disappointing, and Voigt's lack of sympathy for Melody's postulated type is a problem from the start. However, Jeff's own feelings at every stage are compellingly real and affecting; the growing closeness between him and his father is moving and subtly developed; and his own emotional development and growing character (that old-fashioned term is the only word for it) brings out Voigt at her best, as well.