Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Blackbird Blues by Jean K. Carney

Blackbird Blues. Jean K. Carney. Bedazzled Ink Publishing Company.  October 2019. pb, 218 pp.; ISBN: 978-1949290226.

Mary Kay O” Donnell lives a life parallel to a masterful jazz performance.  She’s an aspiring jazz singer who initially has to decide whether she will enter a convent in Chicago.  Then she has to make a decision about an unwanted pregnancy.  During this time, she is mourning the death of a nun, Sister Michaeline, who as Mary Kay’s mentor.  Sister Michaeline was a nun who always responded out of the box but who guided Mary Kay with advice that built up Mary Kay’s positive self-image.  The loss is so huge and the pain staggering.

At the same time Mary Kay’s neighbor introduces her to the literary works of James Baldwin and the other nuns to the growing civil rights movement.  Then Mary Kay finds herself wrapped up in the world of an African-American Lucius who is a jazz performer.  He also gives Mary Kay the diary of Sister Michaeline which was written during her early years as a nun.  The excerpts have a major impact on Mary Kay as do the singing lessons from Lucius.  They also make visits to local art museums and galleries and they visit jazz clubs that are popular in the African-American world.

Mary Kay’s decision about her pregnancy provides a devastating chapter, a time she will forever mourn.  During this period, she discovers things about Sister Michaeline that are shocking and which Mary Kay understands from her present feelings for Lucius.

This is remarkable historical fiction that is poignant and mind-blowing in intensity. The greatest jazz pieces are depicted as swirling bands of rising and falling notes that sometimes spin out of control and then develop into a harmonious sound that is unpredictable.  That is also Mary Kay’s life during the turbulent 1960s, a time in which change is feared, misunderstood, delighted in and held close.  Jean Carney is a talented writer who has penned an unforgettable story that reflects a time of change and emergence into new culture and form.  It holds parallels with our present age! Delightful and highly recommended read!

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