“Jazz Baby” by Beem Weeks

One reviewer wrote: “Jazz Baby is intense, raw, erotic, violent, and often uncomfortably sensuous, which makes it so different from To Kill a Mockingbird and Catcher in the Rye. But like those classics, the protagonist is fresh and compelling, her story brilliantly conveyed. One of the most accomplished self-published works I’ve read.” I totally agree.

“It’s nineteen twenty-five, and things are different now,” Emily Ann Teegarten proclaims near the beginning.  Not nearly different enough as it turns out. “You have a way with song,” a piece of gangster’s muscle declares near the end. “Shame nobody cares.”  She was born ‘Mississippi white trash’, with a mother who had a talent too, and dreams, but she never made it out of Rayford; or rather she had made it as far as Atlanta before Emily Ann came along and snatched it all away. Life could have been so different for Jazz Baby Teegarten, and this is the story of why it wasn’t, though the author leaves us a sliver of hope at the end, like a thin bladed knife more likely to take life than to save it.

Beem Weeks is a talented writer.  Let me whet your appetite. “Jackson, Mississippi, sprang up quick as a sucker punch to a blind man’s nose.” “She came to Rayford Christmas last – to sing carols for all us poor folks can’t afford to sing for ourselves.” “Aunt Frannie, well, she offered up nothing likely to be confused with sympathy.” “Motherhood appeared as one of those strange abstract paintings that mostly confuse folks as to the artist’s intentions.”

Life is a lottery. Thomas Hardy’s ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ came to mind: a young woman (hardly out of childhood) with talent and intelligence, born of low degree and continually crossed by the circumstances from which she was trying to escape.  I very much admired the fluency of the writing and found ‘Jazz Baby’ a strong and thought-provoking read.