Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
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.)
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.
Read an Excerpt
I had such a wave of sickness come over me that I thought I was going to throw up, but by the time I walked into the bathroom it had calmed some and I poured myself a glass of water from the tap and went back to the bed. Four in the morning. I held my eyes open to keep from seeing the part where he was falling.
Then for no reason at all I thought of that girl Fay. I didn't know where she lived. I didn't have her phone number so I could call her and tell her that she couldn't have the job, if I was to decide not to give it to her. I couldn't call to find out if she was okay if I was to go in tomorrow and not find her. It wasn't that I wanted to think about her, but by seeing her face I could make myself not see Franklin's, so I thought about her. I could barely fix her in my mind, the thin skin on her temples, the red that the cold put on her cheeks. I couldn't remember the color of her eyes or if her straight hair that wasn't blond or brown was cut into bangs the way so many girls her age like to wear their hair these days. I wondered where in the east she came from. I wondered who was looking out for her. Who made her that ugly hat. I remembered how careful she was when it came time for her to cross the street and it made me feel comforted. Someone taught her what to watch for. But then, they didn't teach her well enough if she was wandering down to Beale looking for work in bars. There was no watching them every minute, Marion. We can't be everywhere. What are you going to do but teach them to look?