Singing in the Comeback Choir

Singing in the Comeback Choir

3.1 8
by Bebe Moore Campbell
     
 

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"If this is a fair world, Bebe Moore Campbell will be remembered as the most important African-American novelist of this century -- except for, maybe, Ralph Ellison and James Baldwin. Her writing is clean and clear; her emotions run hot, but her most important characteristic is uncompromising intelligence coupled with a perfectionist's eye for detail." --TheSee more details below

Overview

"If this is a fair world, Bebe Moore Campbell will be remembered as the most important African-American novelist of this century -- except for, maybe, Ralph Ellison and James Baldwin. Her writing is clean and clear; her emotions run hot, but her most important characteristic is uncompromising intelligence coupled with a perfectionist's eye for detail." --The Washington Post Book World

Maxine McCoy's life is going pretty well. She is the executive producer of a hugely popular talk show, married to the man she loves, and pregnant with their child. Although there are some issues in her life that she must deal with -- her husband's past infidelity, the high pressures that come with being a television producer -- she has done rather well for herself.

Living atop a Los Angeles hill in a lavish home, Maxine feels good about what she has accomplished, especially considering the limited circumstances and opportunity she was given in the struggling Philadelphia community where she was raised. But her security is shattered and everything changes when Maxine gets a call from the caretaker of her 76-year-old grandmother, who raised the orphaned Maxine. She is summoned back to the old neighborhood that she would rather forget.

Maxine returns to Philadelphia and discovers that her old neighborhood, like her grandmother, has seen better days. Once a brilliant singing star, Maxine's grandmother, Lindy, has become a smoking, drinking, bitter woman whose once glorious voice has withered from disuse. The house that at one time echoed with music and laughter is now quiet and lifeless. The community in which Maxine grew up has become a crime-infested neighborhood that keeps its residents in a state of fear and despair.

Maxine is all set to move her grandmother away from the decimation around her, but Liddy isn't quite ready to leave, and fights for her independence. When an opportunity arises for Liddy to sing once again, both she and Maxine realize that Lindy and the old neighborhood are worthy of restoration.

Writing with lyrical prose and insight, Bebe Moore Campbell demonstrates why Entertainment Weekly called her "a master when it comes to telling a story." She has written a tale of hope and redemption that shows how, with the right attitude, anything is possible.

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Editorial Reviews

Wendy Sealey
In her latest novel, [Campbell] masterfully spins a careful plot from which emerges a well-crafted and engaging work that grapples with life's most important issues: love, trust, and the value of faith. -- Quarterly Black Review
Christine Muhlke

Bebe Moore Campbell, the author of Brothers and Sisters and Your Blues Ain't Like Mine, has done an extraordinary thing with her new novel, Singing in the Comeback Choir -- she's crafted a smooth, deeply witty novel that will appeal to fans of both Terry McMillan and Dorothy Allison. Her eye for detail and ear for colloquial black language -- from No'th Ca'lina to South Central -- brings her fiction alive. Best of all, beneath Campbell's easygoing style lies an intelligent, heartfelt story that packs a surprising emotional punch.

Campbell's protagonist, Maxine McCoy, has made it from the streets of Philadelphia, where she was raised by her flamboyant jazz-singer grandmother, Lindy, to the flowering hills of Hollywood, where she produces a talk show that tries (and sometimes fails) not to be sleazy. Ignoring the twinges of a spiritual conflict that stems from wanting to help less-fortunate blacks -- like the hopeless ghetto teens she taught while trying to break into television -- and wanting to make it in the soulless world of television, Maxine knows she'd "come too far and fought too hard to take [her] title for granted." She and her handsome, successful, dishwashing(!) husband are trying to heal the wounds of a miscarriage and infidelity when Maxine is told she has to pull the show out of a ratings slump or look for another job and find a new caretaker for 76-year-old Lindy, who is consoling herself after a stroke with scotch, Kools and heavy doses of Carmen McRae. Putting her job on the line, Maxine returns to her childhood home, where she tries to get Lindy to straighten up and fly right and leave her now-dangerous neighborhood. In the graffiti-covered house, Maxine's "Harriet-Tubman-Mary-McLeod-Bethune-Lift- Every-Voice-And-We-Shall-Overcome complex" kicks in, and soon she's trying to bring both the neighborhood and her once-fiery grandmother back to life.

Music plays an important part in this book's language and metaphors, as well as its plot. Campbell's gift for rhythm and melody keep the pages flying, with sentences like, "Lindy's voice was a skater, dipping, leaping, twirling, cool as the ice it floated across. Cool. Cool. Cool." Divas like Sarah Vaughan and Billie Holiday are invoked to set Lindy's mood. Characters and settings are vividly constructed, all representative of the different worlds Maxine has fought to exist in and moves so easily between. Especially funny (and scary) are her glimpses into the world of talk shows.

The unfortunate question asked of most books written by popular female African-American writers is, "Is it literature?" In Campbell's case, the answer is, "Not exactly, but who the hell cares?" I devoured this book in an evening and went to bed wet with tears. Singing in the Comeback Choir speaks to readers of all races, and it carries Campbell's signal message: With love, laughter, hope and hard work, women can turn shit around. -- Salon

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A sheen of emotional slickness prevents Campbell's disappointing third novel from achieving the resonance of her earlier work (Brothers and Sisters; Your Blues Ain't Like Mine). Two women struggle to overcome betrayal. Professionally successful and newly pregnant, Maxine McCoy, an African American TV producer, tries to regain marital trust after her husband's brief infidelity. During a sweeps period that will determine her talk show's future, Maxine leaves L.A. and returns to North Philadelphia to attend to Malindy Walker, the grandmother who raised her. Once a moderately famous club singer, Lindy is depressed and rebellious after a recent mild stroke; she also continues to nurse deep resentment for the manager who swindled her. An invitation to sing at an important music festival seems just the stimulus Lindy needs, yet she refuses either to participate or to move out of her declining neighborhood despite Maxine's repeated urging to do both. Just as a small accidental house fire shakes Lindy from her emotional paralysis, Maxine must leave Lindy on her own when she returns to her job. Amid professional havoc and personal doubts, a chance encounter with a former student helps Maxine discover inner peace, which she uses to help herself and Lindy leave the past behind and move happily forward. Campbell does a nice job of drawing the intriguing complexities of Maxine and Lindy's relationship, but the subtlety that distinguishes the best passages is markedly absent from most of the book, which is undermined by broad characterizations and an implausibly neat conclusion.
Library Journal
At 37, African American Maxine McCoy's plate is full. She's newly pregnant and fearful of another miscarriage, trying to rebuild trust in her unfaithful but regretful husband and worried about the grandmother who raised her and still lives in a failing north Philadelphia neighborhood after suffering a small stroke. As executive producer of a television talk show, Maxine has nurtured the host and raised ratings, but cancellation looms and the pending sweeps are critical. Then her grandmother's paid companion leaves, and Maxine goes to her beloved grandma, once a renowned singer who's lost both her zest for living and her singing voice. Struggling to meet all her commitments, Maxine is torn between her mentor's admonition to follow the money and her growing desire to follow her heart. In her third novel, Campbell (Brothers and Sisters, LJ 8/94) dwells less on racial issues than on human problems, particularly those faced by modern women working outside the home. Campbell tells a fine feel-good story, and her audience is bound to embrace it. [BOMC Main selection; Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 9/1/97.]Michele Leber, Fairfax Cty. P.L., Va.
School Library Journal
YA-Maxine McCoy is a successful television producer in L.A., but half of her heart is back on Sutherland Street in a decaying section of Philadelphia. There, her grandmother Lindy, a former blues singer, has recovered from a small stroke but, against doctor's orders, is drinking and smoking far too much. Maxine's TV show is slipping in the ratings, but she finds time for a trip to Philly to check on Lindy, who raised her, and needs help, even if she won't admit it. Maxine needs help too; her husband has had a brief affair that destroyed her trust in him. She is pregnant and, after one miscarriage, is afraid for her good fortune. Lindy is depressed and bored, and when she is invited to sing in a music festival, she is both elated and fearful. A trio of unforgettable musicians help her get ready for her last performance. This is Maxine's story, the story of a black woman who has made it big but hasn't forgotten her roots, or let success overshadow her loving, caring nature. It is also Lindy's story; she yearns for one more chance, but finally realizes she needs help, and accepts it. The minor characters are also drawn with compassion and humor. YAs will find dynamic role models in these strong, black women and the men who love them.-Molly Connally, Kings Park Library, Fairfax County, VA
Betsy Groban
In her latest novel, Bebe Moore Campbell is back on the turf she explored so well in her previous one, Brothers and Sisters: the world of upwardly mobile blacks successfully making their way in corporate America yet experiencing a sharp sense of dislocation from their roots. -- New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
Campbell (Brothers and Sisters, 1994, etc.) continues her thoughtful exploration of contemporary black life, this time featuring a female TV producer torn between her upwardly mobile L.A. existence and the crumbling Philadelphia neighborhood where she grew up. Maxine McCoy, married, pregnant, and the executive producer of the high-profile Ted Graham Show, has to juggle her talk show responsibilities with caretaking, at long-distance, her aging grandmother, the once well-known singer Lindy Walker. When Maxine gets word that Pearl, the friend who's been watching over Lindy since the old woman's mild stroke, is going back south, Maxine has to take off during sweeps week, risking the displeasure of her colleagues, to tend to her grandmother in Philadelphia. Her first impulse is to move Lindy into an assisted-living center. But Lindy will have nothing to do with it. When Maxine's own mother, Millicent, died, Lindy took Maxine in, eventually giving up her singing career for the financial security of practical nursing. Lindy vowed to do for her granddaughter what she was unable or unwilling to do for her own daughter Millicent. Now, after spending time in her old neighborhood, Maxine realizes that, while drugs and crime have infiltrated Lindy's block, the sense of community has remained intact. And as she struggles to put the elements of her own life into perspectiveher feelings about work, about her unpredictable husband, and about prospective motherhoodshe discovers the redeeming quality of community involvement and the healing that comes from a sense of purpose. Lindy's own salvation ultimately comes from getting back in touch with her music, whence the novel's title. Rich and fluidstorytelling, peopled with believably illuminating characters.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780425227824
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
08/19/2009
Pages:
320
Sales rank:
911,344
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt


Chapter One


the pillow seemed to be calling her name. Lying in bed, she felt casual and unrushed, and it took her a few moments to remember that she was right in the middle of a workweek. She had to get up soon, but she wanted to enjoy the moment. Besides, there was no way she could move without waking her husband. Her back was pressing against his chest, his arms were crisscrossing her breasts and resting against her belly, and his legs, wrapped around hers, were holding her tight. The closeness of his body was soothing to her, like a slow song just getting into the groove.

could best extricate herself from. She wasn't a small woman, but Satchel's body was a human tree trunk. She wriggled a bit, but his arms didn't give. Then she glanced over her shoulder at him. His eyes were shut. His face was serene. His lips were twitching. Maxine started to laugh.

her stomach, and she knew she was going to throw up. It was a feeling she'd become accustomed to over the last three months. "Satchel, let me up. Quick."

kept his hand on the back of her neck, and even while she vomited, the comfort of his fingers stroking her wasn't entirely lost. Only a little came up, and when she was finished she felt better, as though a too tight collar had been loosened. Her doctor had told her she'd stop feeling sick soon; it was the first time she'd vomited all week. Satchel rinsed a washcloth and began wiping her face. The coolness against her skin, the effortless transition from sickness to health, sharpened her senses, making her conscious of the happiness and gratitude that filled her, even though she wasn't looking forward to the day ahead. She opened the window next to the sink. The early-April air that floated inside was chilly and a little sweet.

edge of the tub, next to Satchel. The porcelain was cold against her bare bottom. He took her hands in his.

fiber, the works."

back to extenuating circumstances which were out of your control."

on his own. She'd come to depend upon his insight and to respect his survival politics. "What are you going to be doing?"

East Hell. They take living through and off a child to another level. Very ugly. Ten years from now she'll be hiring me to sue them."

rest of the money. They're both her `managers.' Please let our child be a nerd with yearnings for the hallowed halls of ivy," Satchel said. He was looking at her breasts. Maxine folded her arms across her chest and lowered her head.

for nine, yet the fullness of her soon-to-be-maternal breasts excited him and made her shy.

work yet?" he asked.

She didn't move. Satchel slid closer to her and kept stroking her fingers as though he had all the time in the world. She rested her head against his shoulder. "Almost forgot," she said, then stood abruptly, and her relaxed feeling evaporated as fast as music when the band goes home.

tilt of her head, became businesslike. Professional. The synapses in her brain turned into computer keys, clicking, clicking. Without even putting on her suit, she was transformed into a woman with a comma and a title after her name. Executive Producer. Her second skin.

the television on. "It's a short segment. Two or three minutes," Maxine said.

very tall. Television made him appear larger than life. What they didn't realize was that it wasn't his body but his personality that loomed beyond the confines of the screen. Ted's megawatt smile--equal parts good cheer and good teeth--seemed to leap out and pull people to him. Today he wore a bright multicolored sweater over a tie and shirt. The bright hues complemented his ruddy, boyish face. His expression said: I'm the party; let's have a ball.

his three minutes in front of a camera.

that men are drooling in their oatmeal every morning as they watch you." His voice was friendly and easygoing. "Don't ask me how I'm privileged with such information," he said, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, a long, exaggerated movement, "but just take it from me, Kim: you're making the cereal soggy all over southern California." He flashed his sunny smile, and the anchor giggled.

but I understand that you have another interest, that the world isn't aware of yet. You're the chair of this year's Special Olympics."

caring person. His riveted stare paid silent homage to her beauty, her intellect. Kim shifted in her seat and moved a little closer to him.

of the needs of the handicapped,

touch Ted's wrist very quickly. "What's changed in the world of talk shows since you started?"

are close to people's hearts." His eyes were wide open, guileless.

what's bothering us as a nation. For example, we recently taped a story, which will air soon, about a woman who gave her baby up for adoption and now wants her back."

for years and are struggling to reenter their children's lives."

to talk with a convicted killer on death row, as we discuss the pros and cons of the death penalty."

a hard run. Seeing him interviewed made her anxious, but now she could relax. When he did well, it was a testimony to her judgment and guidance. Ted had the raw talent, but she had shaped his malleable charisma and charm into a more marketable product. His success underscored her own and reminded her how far she'd come from a scarred brick row house in North Philadelphia.

that Maxine lived with Lindy, her grandmother, after her mother died. For the first seven years, Lindy raised her in between singing for their supper in nightclubs, at concerts and revues, up and down the East Coast. She'd appeared on television too. Maxine could remember pieces of her earlier life, with her mother. But her real growing up took place with Lindy. They had years of feast and others of famine. Yet even during the bad times, her grandmother managed to instill in Maxine hope for the future and enough drive and ambition to go after more than North Philly could give her.

the warm spray and the soapy lather and the feel of the washcloth against her skin more since she'd become pregnant. She liked looking at her body, especially when she was wet, and rubbing her hands across her belly, touching her breasts. It was true: they were fuller, overflowing her A cups when she put on her bra, and her stomach looked rounder too. Even though this pregnancy seemed to be progressing normally, all she had to do was think about how the first had ended unexpectedly, in pain, blood, and tears, to realize that there were no guarantees. Please don't let me miscarry, she prayed.

in the bedroom they used for working out. She stood in the open doorway and watched as his tall body flowed into the slow, sinewy patterns of tai chi. Maxine could tell that he'd gone into his "zone." His dark eyes were closed; his wide mouth was relaxed and open. His elegant movements seemed incongruous for such a big, rough-looking man. His neck was too thick for her to circle with her hands. He had a full head of coarse hair, and his face was more friendly than handsome; but there was something besides friendliness that made most women look twice.

She sensed immediately that his solidity was more than physical. Men appeared to like him, and he had a lot of "play" sisters, who wanted to check her out and make sure she wasn't going to break their brother's heart. She learned to trust them and came to admire Satchel because women who weren't in love with him cared about his heart. It was one of his "girlfriends" who'd told her that he'd worked at night and on weekends during high school to help support his mother and two sisters after his father became ill. Maxine was impressed but not surprised. She could tell that there had been at least one Goliath in his past and that he had never backed down from any giant.

hanging on the back of the door and tell me if that tie goes."

"Looks good. Do you have a meeting tonight?"

her friends. He ironed his own clothes, cleaned a kitchen better than she could, and didn't mind cooking. "I'll fix something," she said.

Why don't I get us some?"

soon be the baby's room, trying to envision the transformation. They had agreed that the workout room was the best choice for the nursery, since it got plenty of light and faced the backyard. The only other bedroom would be put to use, as well.

she'll be in the guest room for at least a few weeks," Maxine said.

nuts, but Maxine couldn't imagine having a baby without Lindy's being there to help her; she'd be so happy when she heard the news. Her grandmother would want to be with her. "Of course she'll come."

an old Ojays song in his loud, decidedly off-key voice. She poked her head into the bathroom. "See you," she called.

newly remodeled kitchen. Looking around, she felt pleased. In five years they'd converted their large Spanish stucco house, from the dark "needs a little TLC" fixer-upper that the broker had sold them, into an elegant home. Satchel had set a place for her at the table in the adjacent breakfast room, with a bowl, a package of instant oatmeal, a banana, and a glass of skim milk. Her vitamins were on a paper napkin. Maxine mixed water with the oatmeal and put it in the microwave. She ate quickly, drank the milk, swallowed the vitamins, and slipped the banana into her purse. On her way out, she stopped to gaze through the picture window, admiring her rose- and azalea-filled garden, the pool, and the panoramic view of the city below. The sight from her hilltop home always made her think she was about to take flight. It was exhilarating, a good start to a hard day.

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