Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Melting the Blues by Tracy Chiles McGhee

Product Details

Augustus Lee Rivers, a farmer and bluesman, has two obsessions:  his relationship with the Duncan family and his desire to leave small town Chinaberry to become a musician in Chicago.  When his plans are prevented by a devastating betrayal, Augustus is driven into the belly of the blues where he must reckon with his past if he is to move forward.  (taken from the back of the book)

This book is set in Arkansas in 1957, which will be a selling point for a lot of people.  That period in time, race was a big issue.  Those who are interested in history will find this to be a realistic portrayal of the time period.  For me, I've never given a fig for history, so we won't be focusing on that portion of the story.  Though it's incredibly relevant and important, it's not my forte.

This is a fascinating and gritty story about Augustus and his family.  Most of the book takes place within the span of a year.  We're given an in-depth look into the heart and soul of every character.  Not only does this make them more interesting, but it strengthens the bond between reader and character.  The best part is, McGhee's written this in such a way that you don't even realize you're bonding with the characters until it's already done.

The wording in this book is just beautiful, but the symbolism is what really caught me.  I don't normally comment or notice symbolism, but it's so prevalent in this book that you can't help it.  The sun is the most obvious one, but as you're reading, you'll notice everything from food to flags being used to help tell the story.  I cannot even imagine the hours McGhee spent perfecting this story and making every single item in her world tell part of the story.  It's one of the best-crafted stories that I've read in a long time.

That being said, there's definitely a downside or two here.  McGhee has done such an incredible job creating sympathy and empathy for the characters that one when erupts, it's a shock to the system.  Now, quickly you pull back and see where the character is coming from, but at the moment you find yourself stunned.  After that, you feel a return to sanity and a sense of wondering why you weren't looking at things in the same manner as the character that suddenly exploded.  My second issue comes with the epilogue.  The solution?  Skip it.  Not only is it unnecessary, but it took away from the story.  After this carefully crafted, beautifully worded story, I found myself wondering how such an egregious error could have been made in not cutting out the epilogue.  I still wonder, but when I read this book again, I'll just keep to my sticky note and stop before reading that part.

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