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Of Song and Water: A Novelby Joseph Coulson
"Of Song and Water, a more tightly focused novel than Coulson's first, derives its unique style from jazz and does a fine job examining the ways that social tensions exert pressure on individual lives not in terms of historic events, but as manifested in personal conflicts." Donna Seaman, The Common Review (read the entire Common review)
Synopses & Reviews
Of Song and Water tells a tale of the Great Lakes, of singlehanded sailors and jazz musicians, of working-class dreams blighted by family duty, personal betrayals, and the untold violence between fathers and sons.
The story moves from the shores of Lake Huron and Lake Erie to the jazz bars of Detroit and Chicago, from 1920s Rivertown to present-day Humbug Marina, as it follows the life of Coleman Moore, a jazz guitarist who began his career with promise but who now finds himself adrift and in the company of ghosts: his mentor, a black jazz legend trying to live peacefully on the edge of a white town; his grandfather, a Prohibition rumrunner turned ruthless entrepreneur; and his first love, a clear-headed woman who refuses to live in the dark tunnels of the past.
In language that evokes the riffs and rhythms of jazz and the sound and movement of the Great Lakes, Joseph Coulson's second novel is a profound Orphic journey, a story of hidden truths, unfulfilled dreams, and possible redemption.
"Coulson (The Vanishing Moon) mines a put-out-to-pasture jazz guitarist's halcyon past and hardscrabble present in a poignant sophomore outing. It's 2003 and Jason Moore (on stage, he was Coleman Moore) lives near Detroit, driving a beer delivery truck. Though his battered hands can no longer handle a guitar, they work well enough for drinking, which he does frequently while reminiscing about his band, the CBT Trio, once the toast of Chicago. Other frequent rumination topics are Maureen — the girl he married and lost — and Jennifer — the girl he didn't marry. Tragic memories of his paternal grandfather Havelock and father, Dorian, both skillful sailors, also haunt Jason. The one joy in his life is his 17-year-old daughter Heather, though they, too, hit a rough patch after her high school graduation. The book isn't a total downer; the jazz scenes crackle with energy and authority, and Jason's sexy religious zealot landlady generates some chuckles. Coulson moves fluidly between the past and the present, and the novel is ultimately quiet, affecting and redemptive." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Love abandoned, violence sustained, guilt, grief, the transcendence of sailing and making music, all play in jazzlike counterpoint. Coulson's rhapsodic novel progresses from harsh equations of black and white to an exaltation of color." Booklist
"[T]he book has a certain flow and rhythm that seems appropriate to its themes, and all loose ends are tied up satisfactorily. Recommended." Library Journal
Orpheus descending through a jazz musician's memories (in a minor key). A powerful second novel.
Moving from the Great Lakes to the jazz bars of Detroit and Chicago, Of Song and Water is a tale of singlehanded sailors and jazz musicians, of working-class dreams blighted by family duty, personal betrayals, and the untold violence between fathers and sons. The novel follows the life of Coleman Moore, a jazz guitarist of early fame who finds himself adrift and in the company of ghosts: his mentor, a black jazz legend trying to live peacefully on the edge of a white town; his grandfather, a Prohibition rumrunner turned ruthless entrepreneur; and his first love, a clear-headed woman who refuses to live in the dark tunnels of the past. As he abandons music and turns his mind to a damaged sailboat, Coleman begins a hazardous course, risking the love of his daughter and the trust of Brian James, his longtime collaborator and friend. Driven by mid-life doubts, Coleman revisits his early ambitions and desires, returning through a maze of time and memory to the central crisis of his life, a moment of tremendous cruelty that calls into question much of what he hopes for and believes. In language that evokes the riffs and rhythms of jazz and the sound and movement of the Great Lakes, Joseph Coulsons second novel is a profound Orphic journey, a story of hidden truths, unfulfilled dreams, and possible redemption.
Praise for Joseph Coulson's debut novel, The Vanishing Moon:
"The novel at times achieves the quiet beauty of William Maxwell's finest work-generous, episodic, elegiac but not sentimental."-The Nation
"Coulson writes with surpassing clarity and dignity . . . creating a somberly beautiful family saga."-Booklist
"The Vanishing Moonis a beautifully told story about family bonds, love, loss, and the power of memory over our lives. This is Joseph Coulson's first novel, and I hope not his last."-The Bloomsbury Review
Forced to abandon a musical career and struggling to move his father's sailboat out of dry dock, Coleman Moore finds himself at mid-life in the company of ghosts: his grandfather, a rumrunner and Great Lakes pirate; his jazz mentor, a black man in a white town; and his first love, a woman unafraid of the past. Like a melody or a swift stream, Of Song and Waterpulls us into a world of hidden truths, crushed dreams, and possible redemption.
Joseph Coulson's The Vanishing Moon (available in paperback from Harcourt)was a great success in Germany and France. Born in Detroit, Coulson is the author of three books of poetry and several plays. He lives in Boston.
About the Author
Joseph Coulson, novelist, poet, and playwright, was born in Detroit in 1957. His first novel, The Vanishing Moon (2004) was selected for the Barnes & Noble Great New Writers series and won the Book of the Year Award, Gold Medal in Literary Fiction, from ForeWord Magazine.
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