TENORMAN by David Huddle


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Storywriter Huddle (Intimates, 1993, etc.) contributes an uncharacteristically stiff piece of work to Chronicle's novella series (see Beeman, above). Henry McKernan is with the NEA's ""American Music Recovery Program,"" so he's pleased when black jazzman Eddie Cames, who's been living in Sweden and risking death by alcohol there, agrees to live in an NEA-subsidized apartment-cum-music studio near Washington, stay off booze, go out only when he's chauffeured, and let everything he plays be recorded for posterity if not also a career boost. The plan goes well for saxist Carries, who at 61 enters a fertile period, and for project director McKernan, who declares Cames ""a major American artist."" The reader, though, fares less happily, chafing at McKernan's decidedly unhip narrative voice (""Live jazz so intoxicates me that I become happy, childish...""), but also at having to listen to his marital problems (by and large dismal). Bottom is hit when McKernan and wife Marianne listen to tapes made of Cames's conversation while on a date (the agency keeps him body-wired at all times); it's hard to know whether the less credible thing is what's on these first-date tapes--a painfully artificial exchange, over dinner, of first-awareness-of-sex memories--or the fact that the McKernans actually find their path to the bedroom eased from listening to them--even after Marianne says approvingly of Carnes's dinner companion that"" 'she's taken charge of her biological destiny. She's insisting on the value of intelligence and mutual personal inquiry and revelation as legitimate elements of courtship.' ""Huddle's way of dropping names into the story--the Marsalis brothers, for example, who stop in to jam with Carnes--adds no psychological authenticity and just further muddies the question as to whether this weirdly stiff-necked tale might have begun life as a satire of federal bureaucrats and the National Endowment before losing its way. Gear-grinding work from an often fine story-crafter.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1995
Page count: 96pp
Publisher: Chronicle