Two St. Louis residents, united by music and a local record store, fall in love in Morais’ nostalgic debut novel.
Although it opens in 2014, most of this story unfolds during the 1980s and ’90s as it follows Octavian Munroe and Mina Rose during their childhood and teenage years. Octavian, the African-American son of a professor and a poet, comes from a more stable household, although the death of his mother from cancer and his brother Francis’ issues with drug dependency cause complications. Mina, the daughter of an attorney who’s as eccentric as she is formidable, has a less stable home life, but she has the unquestionable advantage of being white in a city that’s rife with race-related issues. Octavian and Mina’s first meeting in the fifth grade; later, they bond with friends at Rahsaan’s Records, where they later work, and they form a friendship that not even the tidal forces of their lives can tear apart. Morais conjures a very specific milieu—urban St. Louis in the 1980s and ’90s—in a way that makes it feel lived-in, and she populates the setting with a panoply of rich characters who express themselves with varying degrees of forthrightness. Although readers of the main characters’ generation may relate to the novel more than others, due to its many specific cultural references, Morais gives it universality as well as specificity—particularly in her depiction of Octavian and Mina’s believable, multidimensional relationship. They talk, argue, reconcile, and razz friends in language that’s heightened but never strained or unrealistic. Readers who have a low tolerance for nostalgia may want to look elsewhere, but for readers who enjoy a story of the robustness and fragility of love, Morais’ work is a must-read.
A novel that effectively intertwines ruminations on race, music, romance, and history.