Wednesday, August 5, 2015


Naomi is a jazz singer in Chicago in the 60s who loves performing more than anything else--or anyone else for that matter, including her 11-year-old daughter Sophia.  We get to know Naomi through Sophia’s very adult voice, but Sophia’s narration alternates with that of a teenage Naomi, who is bribed to abandon her family farm to avoid scandal.  Naomi’s life repeatedly crosses paths with David, the brother of her hometown best friend, but the stabilizing rock that she leans on is Jim, a cop-turned-photographer, whose love for Naomi is unrequited and seems completely foolish, but he loves and protects Sophia as if she were his own child.  Sophia, who routinely watches her mother’s shows from the wings, has only adult friends, until she bonds with Elizabeth, a black girI she meets at school.  Elizabeth’s parents feel that Sophia’s home life--in a hotel with a mother who sleeps until noon and allows Jim to deliver and retrieve her daughter to and from school--is too sleazy for their well-bred daughter.  The lies and general commotion bring Naomi’s qualifications as a parent into question and with good reason.  I often had to remind myself of whose narration I was reading, Naomi’s or Sophia’s, mostly because they both had such sad childhoods; Naomi’s was loveless, and Sophia’s is unconventional at best.  Sophia teeters between two conflicting sentiments, on the one hand wishing for a more stable life in which her mother doesn’t constantly exhibit mortifying behavior, but on the other hand, afraid of forever losing the shreds of sanity and attention that are as ephemeral as passing clouds.  Sophia’s inner turmoil drew me in, but I also loved the vibe of this novel, with its smoky bars and drag queens and a sympathetic nun who helps the impetuous Naomi find her own calling.

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