Don't the Moon Look Lonesome?: A Novel in Blues and Swing

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Don't the Moon Look Lonesome is a staggering achievement, an unprecedented American epic that brilliantly explores the fault lines of race, ethnicity, sex, and class in our society -- as dramatized by a five-year, interracial romance.

Carla is a talented jazz singer nearing forty. Maxwell is a renowned tenor saxophonist, the man Carla deeply loves and wants to marry. But Maxwell, who is black, finds himself increasingly at odds with the notion of lifelong togetherness with a ...

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Overview

Don't the Moon Look Lonesome is a staggering achievement, an unprecedented American epic that brilliantly explores the fault lines of race, ethnicity, sex, and class in our society -- as dramatized by a five-year, interracial romance.

Carla is a talented jazz singer nearing forty. Maxwell is a renowned tenor saxophonist, the man Carla deeply loves and wants to marry. But Maxwell, who is black, finds himself increasingly at odds with the notion of lifelong togetherness with a white woman, as he yields to group pressure. While they are visiting his parents (whom Carla hopes to win over in her struggle to keep Maxwell in her life), scenes from Carla's past play out against the present, and we begin to appreciate the astonishing arc of her life.

From South Dakota to Chicago, from New York City to Houston, from crack houses to art shows, churches to jazz clubs, open plains to unfettered city streets, Carla relentlessly pursues her artistic vision and authority as each of her love affairs reveals who and what she is -- an authentically complex heroine unlike any in our national literature.

About the Author:

Stanley Crouch has been a contributing editor to The New Republic, is an editorial columnist for the New York Daily News, and is a frequent panelist on television and radio talk shows. He is the author of Always in Pursuit, The All-American Skin Game (which was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award), and Notes of a Hanging Judge. For years a staff writer for the Village Voice, he is artistic consultant to jazz at Lincoln Center. A recipient of a MacArthur fellowship, Crouch lives in New York City. Don't the Moon Look Lonesome is his first novel.

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Editorial Reviews

Randy Michael Signor
This big, sweaty first novel by jazz writer and essayist Stanley Crouch soars like a noisy bird drunk on the bluesy sounds and rhythms of American music. Long elegant sentences take off into the ether, roll and dive and spin, and then halt midair, brought to a punctuated stop with a thumpa-thumpa drumbeat you could dance to. If you heard it on American Bandstand, you'de give it a ninety, with a bullet.
Book
Library Journal
Jazz critic and essayist Crouch's first novel is a stylish love story told against the backdrop of the New York jazz scene. Carla, a white singer from South Dakota, and Maxwell, a black saxophone player of some renown, have been together for five years, but the pressures of race, art, success, and family threaten their future. As Carla searches through her memories of former loves for ways to break down the barriers between her and Maxwell, she struggles to find her own place in the competitive world of jazz. Crouch is at his best when writing about the music. His descriptions have a flow that makes the reader feel as though he or she is listening to a blues band or a gospel choir. Carla's thoughts have the cadence of an improvisational solo, going in various directions before returning to the original theme. While some of the dialog is talky and the main characters distant, those familiar with Crouch's nonfiction will want to read this novel, if only for its style. Recommended for larger collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/99.]--Ellen Flexman, Indianapolis-Marion Cty. P.L. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375409325
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/25/2000
  • Pages: 560
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.57 (h) x 1.74 (d)

Meet the Author

THis is the rich teafjka' sfjas fjs asdfsd sdf

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One: Gee, Baby

When Carla flew to Houston with Maxwell to meet his family, there were a lot of brief stares. The flitting attention spurred her to remember, as she now preferred to forget, that she was so Norwegian looking. Her sandy hair was flat as a piece of paper, her skin just short of chalky but robust, her blue eyes the perfect tint to match the veins in her arms and legs; but he was very dark and bulky, with close-cut woolly hair, his eyes drowsy and nearly decadent in their cast.

This contrast, which they used to joke about, meant too much right now. That put a gash in her spirit. They were no longer so damn superior to the dank rhetoric of racial talk. The two had been together for five years. The first four were so good they presently seemed like no more than an elaborate fantasy, a tale she told to herself about an idiotically wonderful life she had never lived. Over the last ten or twelve months, the supreme closeness of their love was suffering. Their home, as if from nowhere, was invaded by emotional disorder. It might linger, it might not. She hated most the mystery of wondering just how long that divisive prickliness would dominate his mood, then infect hers. If she had to experience the sudden spread of this interior cactus, Carla preferred the times when it disappeared almost immediately and Maxwell became himself again, not a perfect guy by any means, but her man. Then, sure, there was reaffirmation in his tone of voice, in his touch, in the way his eyes put themselves on her, as if she were now clear to him again, not a blue-eyed fog he could almost see through, knowing no warmth, no substance. At first, it always felt like agleaming gift to know that her soul and flesh had risen from beneath a dehumanizing abstraction and had returned to their rightful place. Way inside, however, her heart eventually felt like a rubber band that had been pulled and pulled until it could not go back to its original size. Some hard, hard bitterness went with that.

It had gotten pretty ragged and pretty nasty by the time the couple arrived in Houston. Everything each one knew about the other had nearly become secondary to his being black and her being white, neither one individual, neither one human. That was where they were. But, for all of her feeling that things were just about over, she didn't accept what she sensed was his idea that it was natural for them to become alienated, an unmatchable boot and slipper. This girl from South Dakota and this guy from Texas, as far as Carla was concerned, were not instinctively doomed to lose each other just because she couldn't become what he was. She would die before she would accept some garbage like that.

While the two silently moved through the airport to get their luggage, her mood began pushing her mind around. That was how she did it; it was her impulsive way to get herself together. She always handled the moment she was in by constantly shuffling back and forth between the past and the present whenever the pressure was on. Carla knew that her life, just like everbody else's, was a detective story. So she was a person who always wanted to figure out if a problem gaining ground was a matter of personal blame, or if some shortcoming in combination with the slippery nature of life had landed her on the abundant curve of buttocks that made this white woman, like her mother but not her sister, such an anatomical anomaly. There was always a reaction to those soft twin glories below her waist, usually one that was funny or endearing or, well, kind of insulting.

At this luckless moment, Maxwell was walking toward the baggage claim as though he was by himself, all by himself. That was so mortifying. He might have been at home in Houston but he wasn't making any attempt to let her feel as if she was, or could be. What a chickenshit. It sure wasn't like that when they were first really getting it together and he took it upon himself to make her laugh and feel good.

Maxwell used to nickname her "Tailback" or "Back in Action" or "Black Bottom" or phone her from on the road and ask, "How are those Viking grandes dames doing?" That enchanting fanny also got its measure of attention when they traveled through the night clubs that were part of his Manhattan kingdom -- Sweet Basil, the Blue Note, the Village Vanguard, the Jazz Standard, Birdland, Iridium, Smoke. There was that time she often recalled with a secret fondness that was just as secretly embarrassing. An older drummer friend of his, so deep in his cups, said to Maxwell one night as Carla sat down next to him at the bar of the Vanguard after returning from the lavatory, "Boy, now ain't you a bitch? You got a blonde with a black ass. What is this world coming to? Now you got niggers so white a brother afraid to go out with a real white woman can get a black one black as a stovepipe hat and the black woman talks and acts just like the pinkest lady the Lord ever made. You seen 'em: all proper and shit, all baby-food smooth in the mouth -- cultivated, bubble-butt blackstrap molasses-looking women all the way up from the gutter, with no kind of jungle left. No soul to go home to. Just so nice. Ain't got a speck of fire sitting in their panties. Only thing wild left over is that barbwire pickaninny hair. But you, Maxwell Davis, nigger, you stumble your bodyguard-looking self out here and find a white woman couldn't nobody tell was white if all they got to see was the shadow of her profile. You know I ain't lying. She ain't got no regrets about it either. I seen her walking with that big ass banging and prancing along like she's proud of it. I'm telling you, I seen me some changes made in this man's world. Now you got black girls proud their hair is nappy and white girls happy they asses ain't flat as pancakes. I need another drink. The end is near -- near you."

As she now looked at Maxwell exhibiting his commendable manners by stepping so gracefully between the other passengers as he pulled his and her luggage off the ramp and made sure that he neither bumped into nor struck anyone with their suitcases, she, for absolutely no reason, saw him as he was before they became lovers. Before she finally gave up her apartment and began living with him, before they got so close that, it seemed, when one inhaled the other exhaled.


It was the indelible blue spring morning a year before their romance moved into hot couplings. Maxwell was very carefully lifting Bobo, who could no longer walk, and taking him to the cab that would carry his friend to the Veterans' Hospital. My God, my God.

There was still one more piece of luggage to get and Carla, as a clear pearl of sweat appeared on Maxwell's neck, heard the way he played the saxophone and thought of how attentive he could be and how much, while not feeling even a smidgen of inferiority, she admired him for the force of his sensitivity and the confidence he brought to his art and to the life they had together when nothing unreasonable was mashing down on them. What a mess they were in, the two of them heading for the rental car counter, no closeness distinguishing the air between them. They breathed separately. She was angry and she was insecure but there was also, down in the war room of her soul, a sureness that if this thing could be made right, and if the making it right depended on her, she could do it.

This woman was prepared to take all the necessary hard knocks for what she wanted because of the way she had already lived. That's right. Houston was just another stop. Her life had largely been a study in sturdiness, or the destruction of it: a body and soul graph of stability and instability, of difficult rises and hard falls. That was it. There was nothing to whine about, however. This wasn't particularly special. No way her life was so different from everybody else's. No way.

Carla, something of an adventurer when she thought about it, had been among so, so many different kinds of people that she had no doubts about certain things. None. The world was a tough place and anybody who stayed around found that out, in spades, clubs, hearts, and diamonds. Call your trumps. The rules of illumination, satisfaction, disillusionment, thrills, surprise, joy, shock, and heartbreak were the same for everybody. But it was also just as true that the individual was still that human being out there feeling it alone.

That special aloneness was like getting out of a car back home in South Dakota. Back home on one of those windless days and one of those roads that had cost so many young lives when kids, drunk and looking for any kind of excitement, mistook the empty space for a boundless plane of safety and managed to kill themselves.

Out there all by yourself, there seemed to be no worlds of existence other than your own breathing, the feeling of your body, above and below the skin, and that horizon, stretching on and on in flatness. That exquisite solitude was warming because one could pretend that God had made all of this for no greater purpose than to provide just one person with a big target for musing. You could be that vain if you were comfortable with it.

The high-toned flummery one could get into back home when nobody was around for miles and miles had little to do with the overcrowding that she had known for a while now. Carla was breathing down the neck of forty and had been residing -- with a break of a couple of years -- in New York since her early twenties, arriving there with an unshaped desire to sing but not the nerve to sing what she actually felt. Her out-west ethnic background had something to do with it; she wasn't sure she could measure up. Even though the world of Negro music had attracted her since she had been a surprised girl in church, and even though her love of the music had taken her deep into the human side of the Negro world, where there were those she liked and those she couldn't deal with, Carla the new arrival trembled inside about being mistaken for a person unlike what she actually was.

That lack of sureness during her early and mid-twenties prompted the woman to make some mistakes along the way by trying to avoid seeking what she really wanted; by not stepping into the aesthetic line that pulled her most strongly; by not facing the reason but looking for something in which she could be authentic and white and accepted and accepting of herself; by, finally, not taking the chance on failing.

The girl from South Dakota had overcome that while listening to a little portable radio on a long bus ride. The music told her what to do. From then on, color be damned, she called upon the same will that had provided her with the discipline to become a local skating whiz with championship potential when she was a high school girl. Second by second, note by note, and beat by beat, Carla had made herself into a jazz singer, one who had been getting some light attention for the last few years. There was a blessing there.

That attention, those nightclub jobs, and the recordings that were now looming made her relationship to Maxwell quite different from what it was at the very start, when he was being called with job offers all the time and she was rarely the person the caller wanted to employ.

The telephone was the enemy then. It consistently defined the career limitations of the woman in the house, which was why she hated to hear it ring and turned down the speaker on the answering machine, choosing to find out what was going on later in the day, perhaps before dinner, or even later.

Such petty tactics made her feel she was a combination of a bitch and a coward. So let it ring. Let it ring. Ring. Pick up the receiver and act like a fully grown person. There. Her envy, that brittle cousin of awe, subsided to a great degree.


Envy hadn't taken up much space at all when Carla was a kid out on the plains, but New York had made her resentful of the success of others -- almost anybody, regardless of career -- which was something she hated and fought every time that covetous mood made its way to the front of the emotional line. Consequently, it was easy to be thankful for the fact that she was much more confident about herself as an artist, and now usually carried her accomplishments with the modulated authority she had been introduced to during her grade school years as Miss Popular.

That unintended preparation worked well for her when she was interviewed by the nincompoops who wrote about jazz, almost all of them guys who made the art into a revelatory mistress they bloated with the chocolates of their sentimentality or tortured because it so clarified their own inadequacies. Oh, she knew just how to play them. Easy as unsalted butter melting on a skillet. Clarified. Absolutely. Add to that the truth that the greasy spoons and the top flight restaurants where she had waitressed were finishing schools for her and any other woman who needed to learn how to express an amalgamation of dignity, good cheer, ease, humor, and appreciation -- with just enough of the perfume of sex to make a man tip better and feel closer but not close enough to say something so unsavory it would draw a snippy admonishment that might be compressed to a contemptuous razor of light in the insulted one's eyes.

Carla's demeanor convinced every jazz journalist who wanted to do a profile of her that he was discovering fresh material. Because Maxwell, no matter how good he was at handling them, never wanted one of those guys to ever set foot inside their home, her interviews were given in a coffee bar or she visited one of their overstuffed apartments full of the information that these men absorbed and too frequently displayed in place of souls. They were so unlike what she had dreamed about back home, when the South Dakota girl had her imagination tweaked by the exotic force of Eastern European men who were gutsy and physical. These nerdy jazz writers might have been pure New Yorkers, most of them Ellis Island stock to a man, but they never reminded her of the young Tony Curtis in The Sweet Smell of Success (whom her mother thought was one of the handsomest men ever born and never failed to look at with a special enjoyment when that movie was shown on TV). If being muscular or athletic or sexy was the subject, well, they sure as hell weren't Mark Spitz, whose very name made the girls shriek in the locker room showers at the health club when she went back home for a visit during his Olympic year of great conquest. Still, any one of these journalists, zhlulbby or not, badly dressed and unconvincingly poised, could be useful. The bean pole or the shorty or the average build or the zhlub of the moment would be taken by her humility and her shining appreciation of the fact that he had chosen to sprinkle some ink about the way she sang and the way she was. In the middle of those interviews, as with who knows whatever else, something human might take off.

The variously formed love both she and the interviewer had for jazz could redefine the context in the direction of camaraderie. Then a real mood punctured the game and flattened it. This resulted in the singer believing that much more in what the music was about and what it could do -- and how you, no matter what kind of a tricky plan you had, must bow down in your feelings before this thing whenever the right question was asked or implied with enough oomph to stimulate what it felt like to hear someone really take off, or what a miracle it seemed when you were on a bandstand and the swing lifted up.

Any time she was reminded of that swing during an interview, the girl from South Dakota knew she was lucky. Yes: quite. In some personal place, she also felt ashamed for looking down on someone so far outside the way it actually was, especially since there was no way on the entire earth that this woman could ever set her mind to forget how terrible it felt when she was trying to get into the jazz world and had exactly no idea which way to go. She might have had a big rubber butt but she sure wasn't hip. Besides, as Maxwell said, "Never get too hip, baby. Two hips always</>I make an ass."

As it emerged from her like a tantalizing musk, this unspoken realization went to the head of the interviewer, shifting the gears of his enthusiasm into overjoy. The written results, putrefied by clichés, lacking in musical insight but delivered with all the quirks of unearned superiority, were embarrassing but also the substance that underlay a brief but very definite period of gloating. Yep: she was a gloater. Always had been. So while Carla wasn't sure that she would catch Maxwell, there was no doubt that she was going to get much, much closer to his level of success in only a few years. Well,
maybe. If you're equal to your desire, maybe is just enough to bet everything on, just about enough.

Maxwell in all his power was no joke. Not that big boy. Stepping up to where he was would take some doing. She had learned the details of his substance by the day. His winning of jazz polls, the recording dates as leader and guest artist, the copious attention that had fallen on him over the last few years, and all that made his success were not come by simply or naturally. Those who believed the hazy things he said in interviews and thought his music was something achieved through no more than the will of his breath had been totally duped. Playing the part of the idiot savant was a mask Maxwell never removed among those he knew wanted to bite big plugs out of his style or take high positions in the critical circle for breaking down the essences of his methods. He had contempt and slight regard for such people. Her man was an old-timer in the sense that, like a master magician, he only displayed the puzzling charisma of the illusion, never revealed what it took. Not this guy. Those who would truly know where he had hidden the secret crowns and mirrors of his accomplishments had to have the heart to dig for it. He had no intention of using Santa Claus as a model because there had been no reindeer on the roof waiting while his prowess was delivered for no more than the price of wishing on a star or mailing a list to the winter wonderland of the North Pole. The language of the music that was literally at his fingertips resulted from unrelenting homework. Being gifted wasn't enough for him; he flogged his substantial talent; he set fire under it; he spurred it. Maxwell had mastered his horn through a discipline that pushed Carla from admiration to replication. His playing had fluidity in every key. Simple to complex chords were no barriers to his self-expression because of the time spent deepening an already highly perceptive ear. He knew entire recordings and could pick up his tenor, play the saxophone solo, the trumpet solo, the piano solo, the bass solo, and whiz very close to the drum solo.


Sometimes, to show off, he would attach the horn to the hook of the everpresent neck strap and put on a Duke Ellington recording, playing through every note in the arrangement, having learned the work so well that he knew the individual parts played by each of the trumpets, the trombones, and the saxophones. To further intimidate Carla, he would play the recording through yet again, this time blowing in unison with the bass player and laughing when the bassist either missed a chord or made a pedestrian choice.

The obsessive posture of his studying meant that he would examine new rhythms, melodic ideas, and harmonic intervals over and over, making himself into an aesthetic juicer that left nothing behind, not even pulp. When he was all the way into something that had no chanc

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First Chapter

When Carla flew to Houston with Maxwell to meet his family, there were a lot of brief stares. The flitting attention spurred her to remember, as she now preferred to forget, that she was so Norwegian looking. Her sandy hair was flat as a piece of paper, her skin just short of chalky but robust, her blue eyes the perfect tint to match the veins in her arms and legs; but he was very dark and bulky, with close-cut woolly hair, his eyes drowsy and nearly decadent in their cast.

This contrast, which they used to joke about, meant too much right now. That put a gash in her spirit. They were no longer so damn superior to the dank rhetoric of racial talk. The two had been together for five years. The first four were so good they presently seemed like no more than an elaborate fantasy, a tale she told to herself about an idiotically wonderful life she had never lived. Over the last ten or twelve months, the supreme closeness of their love was suffering. Their home, as if from nowhere, was invaded by emotional disorder. It might linger, it might not. She hated most the mystery of wondering just how long that divisive prickliness would dominate his mood, then infect hers. If she had to experience the sudden spread of this interior cactus, Carla preferred the times when it disappeared almost immediately and Maxwell became himself again, not a perfect guy by any means, but her man. Then, sure, there was reaffirmation in his tone of voice, in his touch, in the way his eyes put themselves on her, as if she were now clear to him again, not a blue-eyed fog he could almost see through, knowing no warmth, no substance. At first, it always felt like a gleaming gift to know that her soul and flesh had risen from beneath a dehumanizing abstraction and had returned to their rightful place. Way inside, however, her heart eventually felt like a rubber band that had been pulled and pulled until it could not go back to its original size. Some hard, hard bitterness went with that.

It had gotten pretty ragged and pretty nasty by the time the couple arrived in Houston. Everything each one knew about the other had nearly become secondary to his being black and her being white, neither one individual, neither one human. That was where they were. But, for all of her feeling that things were just about over, she didn't accept what she sensed was his idea that it was natural for them to become alienated, an unmatchable boot and slipper. This girl from South Dakota and this guy from Texas, as far as Carla was concerned, were not instinctively doomed to lose each other just because she couldn't become what he was. She would die before she would accept some garbage like that.

While the two silently moved through the airport to get their luggage, her mood began pushing her mind around. That was how she did it; it was her impulsive way to get herself together. She always handled the moment she was in by constantly shuffling back and forth between the past and the present whenever the pressure was on. Carla knew that her life, just like everbody else's, was a detective story. So she was a person who always wanted to figure out if a problem gaining ground was a matter of personal blame, or if some shortcoming in combination with the slippery nature of life had landed her on the abundant curve of buttocks that made this white woman, like her mother but not her sister, such an anatomical anomaly. There was always a reaction to those soft twin glories below her waist, usually one that was funny or endearing or, well, kind of insulting.

At this luckless moment, Maxwell was walking toward the baggage claim as though he was by himself, all by himself. That was so mortifying. He might have been at home in Houston but he wasn't making any attempt to let her feel as if she was, or could be. What a chickenshit. It sure wasn't like that when they were first really getting it together and he took it upon himself to make her laugh and feel good.

Maxwell used to nickname her "Tailback" or "Back in Action" or "Black Bottom" or phone her from on the road and ask, "How are those Viking grandes dames doing?" That enchanting fanny also got its measure of attention when they traveled through the night clubs that were part of his Manhattan kingdom -- Sweet Basil, the Blue Note, the Village Vanguard, the Jazz Standard, Birdland, Iridium, Smoke. There was that time she often recalled with a secret fondness that was just as secretly embarrassing. An older drummer friend of his, so deep in his cups, said to Maxwell one night as Carla sat down next to him at the bar of the Vanguard after returning from the lavatory, "Boy, now ain't you a bitch? You got a blonde with a black ass. What is this world coming to? Now you got niggers so white a brother afraid to go out with a real white woman can get a black one black as a stovepipe hat and the black woman talks and acts just like the pinkest lady the Lord ever made. You seen 'em: all proper and shit, all baby-food smooth in the mouth -- cultivated, bubble-butt blackstrap molasses-looking women all the way up from the gutter, with no kind of jungle left. No soul to go home to. Just so nice. Ain't got a speck of fire sitting in their panties. Only thing wild left over is that barbwire pickaninny hair. But you, Maxwell Davis, nigger, you stumble your bodyguard-looking self out here and find a white woman couldn't nobody tell was white if all they got to see was the shadow of her profile. You know I ain't lying. She ain't got no regrets about it either. I seen her walking with that big ass banging and prancing along like she's proud of it. I'm telling you, I seen me some changes made in this man's world. Now you got black girls proud their hair is nappy and white girls happy they asses ain't flat as pancakes. I need another drink. The end is near -- near you."

As she now looked at Maxwell exhibiting his commendable manners by stepping so gracefully between the other passengers as he pulled his and her luggage off the ramp and made sure that he neither bumped into nor struck anyone with their suitcases, she, for absolutely no reason, saw him as he was before they became lovers. Before she finally gave up her apartment and began living with him, before they got so close that, it seemed, when one inhaled the other exhaled.

It was the indelible blue spring morning a year before their romance moved into hot couplings. Maxwell was very carefully lifting Bobo, who could no longer walk, and taking him to the cab that would carry his friend to the Veterans' Hospital. My God, my God.

There was still one more piece of luggage to get and Carla, as a clear pearl of sweat appeared on Maxwell's neck, heard the way he played the saxophone and thought of how attentive he could be and how much, while not feeling even a smidgen of inferiority, she admired him for the force of his sensitivity and the confidence he brought to his art and to the life they had together when nothing unreasonable was mashing down on them. What a mess they were in, the two of them heading for the rental car counter, no closeness distinguishing the air between them. They breathed separately. She was angry and she was insecure but there was also, down in the war room of her soul, a sureness that if this thing could be made right, and if the making it right depended on her, she could do it.

This woman was prepared to take all the necessary hard knocks for what she wanted because of the way she had already lived. That's right. Houston was just another stop. Her life had largely been a study in sturdiness, or the destruction of it: a body and soul graph of stability and instability, of difficult rises and hard falls. That was it. There was nothing to whine about, however. This wasn't particularly special. No way her life was so different from everybody else's. No way.

Carla, something of an adventurer when she thought about it, had been among so, so many different kinds of people that she had no doubts about certain things. None. The world was a tough place and anybody who stayed around found that out, in spades, clubs, hearts, and diamonds. Call your trumps. The rules of illumination, satisfaction, disillusionment, thrills, surprise, joy, shock, and heartbreak were the same for everybody. But it was also just as true that the individual was still that human being out there feeling it alone.

That special aloneness was like getting out of a car back home in South Dakota. Back home on one of those windless days and one of those roads that had cost so many young lives when kids, drunk and looking for any kind of excitement, mistook the empty space for a boundless plane of safety and managed to kill themselves.

Out there all by yourself, there seemed to be no worlds of existence other than your own breathing, the feeling of your body, above and below the skin, and that horizon, stretching on and on in flatness. That exquisite solitude was warming because one could pretend that God had made all of this for no greater purpose than to provide just one person with a big target for musing. You could be that vain if you were comfortable with it.

The high-toned flummery one could get into back home when nobody was around for miles and miles had little to do with the overcrowding that she had known for a while now. Carla was breathing down the neck of forty and had been residing -- with a break of a couple of years -- in New York since her early twenties, arriving there with an unshaped desire to sing but not the nerve to sing what she actually felt. Her out-west ethnic background had something to do with it; she wasn't sure she could measure up. Even though the world of Negro music had attracted her since she had been a surprised girl in church, and even though her love of the music had taken her deep into the human side of the Negro world, where there were those she liked and those she couldn't deal with, Carla the new arrival trembled inside about being mistaken for a person unlike what she actually was.

That lack of sureness during her early and mid-twenties prompted the woman to make some mistakes along the way by trying to avoid seeking what she really wanted; by not stepping into the aesthetic line that pulled her most strongly; by not facing the reason but looking for something in which she could be authentic and white and accepted and accepting of herself; by, finally, not taking the chance on failing.

The girl from South Dakota had overcome that while listening to a little portable radio on a long bus ride. The music told her what to do. From then on, color be damned, she called upon the same will that had provided her with the discipline to become a local skating whiz with championship potential when she was a high school girl. Second by second, note by note, and beat by beat, Carla had made herself into a jazz singer, one who had been getting some light attention for the last few years. There was a blessing there.

That attention, those nightclub jobs, and the recordings that were now looming made her relationship to Maxwell quite different from what it was at the very start, when he was being called with job offers all the time and she was rarely the person the caller wanted to employ.

The telephone was the enemy then. It consistently defined the career limitations of the woman in the house, which was why she hated to hear it ring and turned down the speaker on the answering machine, choosing to find out what was going on later in the day, perhaps before dinner, or even later.

Such petty tactics made her feel she was a combination of a bitch and a coward. So let it ring. Let it ring. Ring. Pick up the receiver and act like a fully grown person. There. Her envy, that brittle cousin of awe, subsided to a great degree.

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 19, 2003

    Brillant

    This is a magnificant piece of literature with a trmendous level of active human interaction and stunning narrative engagement. A classic. Read it!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 1, 2000

    A masterpiece

    I was astounded by this book. In a country where race has been and continues to be the defining issue, Don't The Moon Look Lonesome offers an ultimately optimistic (though hard-won) view of how individuals can transcend racial differences. Crouch's literary 'chops' are astounding in and of themselves, but the thing here is what he makes of them. We get a panoramic view of contemporary life in the USA as it intersects with the main characters. One aspect of Crouch's writing that has not been stressed nearly enough in the reviews I have seen is his sense of humor. One of my favorite moments is when Baby Aaron (not a baby anymore but the grownup homosexual brother of Maxwell) speaks to Carla for the first time. Crouch captures the odd meter and syntax of an introductory phone conversation (compounded by Baby Aaron's oblique and ultimately winning verbal one-upsmanship) with such humor that I have returned to it many times. But aside from the tragic/comic underpinning of the novel, the characters come to life in a truly human way. Much of the novel's warmth stems from the influence and experiences of Maxwell's mother Eunice, whose provincial yet sage world-view is captured expertly through Crouch's sensitive ear for the subtle verbal nuances that define character. Thankfully, none of the characters descend in to the cookie-cookie representationality that defines so much of the fiction writing that purports to deal with race in America. The fact that Crouch has told his story through the eyes of Carla, a white jazz singer trying to make in New York City is in of itself a grand achievement. Speaking of Carla, 'a big rubber butt' and all, many of the reviews I have read have typed her as a Mailer-esque 'white Negro'. She is anything but, never surrendering her own lingo and her own objectivity in order to be accepted in Maxwell's world. Indeed, one of the glories of this novel is how this jazz Romeo and Juliet respect each other's backgrounds enough to consistently and constructively challenge them. In the right hands, this would make one hell of a movie. But that's beside the point. Crouch stitches together the New York jazz scene (this is the first novel I have read that puts you right on the bandstand), southern and northern American family life of the 50's and 60's, Vietnam and the common and not-so-common denominators that define 'race' in our time into a large and invaluable tapestry. Read it!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 2, 2000

    Don't the Moon Look Lonesome Is a Big Book

    This is a big book, big both in size and scope. Crouch plunges his readers into the sights, smells, tastes, sensations, and sounds his characters experience in living and remembering their lives. Whether feuding with the family, soldiering in Vietnam, feasting on soul food or haute cuisine; or being redeemed by religios passion, steeped in intellectual delight, or exalted by love-making, these vivid characters play out the themes that haunt American literature: race and individualism versus society and clan. There is always marvelous music playing in the background, the music of a master musician.

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