Sunday, September 27, 2015

Book Review - Five Night Stand by Richard J. Alley

As many of you know, my love of jazz stems from two sources: watching Peanuts cartoons and my granddad with his vinyl collection. Although I love all forms of music, jazz is my soul.

One exception - Vivaldi. Anyway, I digress.

To me, jazz is an art that speaks to the soul, breathing life into a person or a place and giving it something it may never have experienced before. Either that, or the music is simply Life itself. Thanks to the novel Five Night Stand by Memphian author Richard J. Alley, jazz does just that. Within the novel, the readers are introduced to Frank Stevens, a recently fired journalist from Memphis who travels to New York seeking out an interview that may change his life; Agnes Cassady, a young and unconventional woman whose life is spiraling out of control thanks to a debilitating disease; and Oliver Pleasant, an aging jazz pianist who is ready to retire from the "security" of a life that both uplifted and brought him down.

Although most of the novel takes place in New York City, there are flashbacks to Winona, Mississippi; Memphis, Tennessee; and New Orleans, Louisiana, and the flair that each city gives off in the form of music. The music that connects whites and blacks in the time of Jim Crow; the music that changes a young black man's life forever; the music that gives a dying woman a possible hope for something better. Each of the main characters has, thus far, simply "existed", yet when they come together for five nights of Oliver's last performance, the music suddenly reminds them what Life is all about. True living is painful and beautiful, sad and graceful, hopeful and forbidden. When Life comes, all secrets are revealed, long ago sealed wounds are opened again, and finally a breath can be taken without shame or guilt. It is time, simply, to Live.

Alley's voice is so powerful that I had to post about the book after reading only twenty pages of it. You feel the tremors in Agnes' hand while she listens to Oliver play and nothing else. You want Frank to make that comeback in his career while completely understanding his drive to be a writer. You want to hear Oliver play that tune he wrote for his deceased wife, Francesca. Each character is a distinct voice, a complete entity that projects themselves off the pages and into our minds. When I finished the book earlier today, I couldn't stop thinking about the characters and silently hoped the best for them. Even Agnes.

Thank you, Richard, for such a powerful book. I look forward to reading more of your work.


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