Reviews provided by Syndetics
Library Journal Review
This second novel from the author of the well-received The Patron Saint of Liars (LJ 4/1/92) is narrated by John Nickel, an ex-drummer who manages a Memphis bar that is a sort of anti-Cheers. He is also African American, a fact you can soon forget. For one thing, in Patchett's Tennessee, everyone, regardless of age, race, sex, class, or locale, speaks nearly the same flat language. John is obsessed with his young son, who has moved to Miami with John's ex-girlfriend, and his longing for the child is the pivotal and most convincing aspect of the novel. In the meantime, 18-year-old Faye Taft enters the bar and John's life, with her drug-addicted brother in tow. They're running from a family destroyed by their father's sudden death. Strangely, John starts imagining the Taft family before the death in passages that are vividly realized yet so disassociated from the narrator that you begin to wonder if he is receiving ESP transmissions. Patchett is a fine writer, but here we are most aware of her ideas for the novel-the fiction itself rarely takes off. For large public library collections.-Brian Kenney, Brooklyn P.L. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Review
Following her well-received debut, The Patron Saint of Liars , Patchett convincingly portrays a bar manager's conflicted feelings for a teenage waitress in this tale of fatherhood and unfulfilled dreams. Narrator John Nickel runs a bar called Muddy's on Memphis's Beale Street. He took the job to help provide for his lover, Marion, and their 10-year-old son, Franklin, who have since moved away, leaving him concerned that the boy lacks paternal guidance. When 17-year-old Fay Taft shows up at Muddy's, lies about her age and asks for a job, Nickel is touched by her neediness and hires her. But he doesn't bargain on her growing desire for him, or on her drug-dealer brother, who brings sleazy clients to the bar. Another complication is the issue of race--Fay is white, Nickel black--but the author concentrates on the color-blind moral problems that any family faces. As Nickel contemplates his own predicaments, he imagines scenes of the Tafts in a stable home before their father died. His sincere sense of responsibility--to his son, to Fay, even to Fay's no-good brother--is conveyed with visceral power, although the hard-boiled dialogue often resembles parody. Patchett's characters may include tough cookies with hearts of gold, but the novel is at its best when she mutes the melodrama and focuses on basic moral issues. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
This is a modest yet intricate story about a man's longing to be a father to his son. After his girlfriend and son leave him and move to Miami, John Nickel, a black man, becomes involved in the lives of Carl and Fay Taft, two white teenagers who have recently experienced the death of their father, Taft. Nickel, a bar manager and ex-blues drummer, hires Fay to work as a waitress in his bar. As he becomes more deeply involved in their lives and caught up in their problems (Carl is a drug-dealer/user, and Fay has become infatuated with Nickel), he yearns more keenly than ever to be reunited with his son. The story unfolds through the eyes of Nickel. We see the events surrounding the end of his relationship with his girlfriend interwoven with the death of Taft. Ultimately, the issues that John Nickel encounters (race, parenting, despair) foster his emotional growth and offer hope for all involved. This compassionate and deeply moving second novel by the author of The Patron Saint of Liars deals swiftly and intelligently with the mystery of human behavior. ~--Kathleen Hughes
Kirkus Book Review
The author of The Patron Saint of Liars (1992) takes risks in her absorbing second novel--about a middle-aged black man who runs a blues club in Memphis--which has a good beginning and end but a static middle. A young white woman named Fay Taft from east Tennessee comes into the club one night looking for a job. When she begins waiting tables there, her brother Carl--who is involved in drugs--also starts hanging around. They have a strange intimacy with the narrator, John Nickel; he feels protective of them, partly because he is far from his own son, Franklin, who is living in Miami with his mother, Marion. Fay reveals that she and Carl moved to Memphis after their father's death, and John begins imagining the life of this man (whom he always thinks of simply as ``Taft'') in passages that alternate with the main plot. Although the narrator's slow, laid-back cadences are well-realized, the story hits a lull before emerging into a more active ending. The relationship between Fay and John is never completely clear; when she reveals that she is about to turn 18 and proposes marriage, it is more of a shock than it ought to be. Furthermore, it seems unlikely that John, a former musician who recognizes immediately that Fay's brother is using drugs and can differentiate between his various highs, would not realize that Carl might be a dealer until someone else mentions it to him. On the other hand, memories of his early days with Marion, and the admission that not marrying her when she was 18 and pregnant was a far-reaching error, are remarkably straightforward and honest. A strikingly original and thoroughly conceived bluesy voice, though the story it tells has some holes in logic. (Author tour)