alisa alering

Writer of fantasy and other fictions


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Joplin’s Ghost, by Tananarive Due

dueI’ve been meaning to read this for a long time, and the first chapters didn’t let me down; they were like deliciously trashy candy. Phoenix Smalls was nearly killed by a piano in her parent’s club when she was ten. Now she is in her twenties, signed to rap impresario G-Ronn’s Three Strikes record label, and poised to become the next hot R&B star. Except for that little problem where she keeps channeling Scott Joplin during live interviews and performances.

Chapters switch back and forth between Phoenix in the now, and Scott Joplin in the then. I guess it was interesting that Joplin’s dreams of the great African-American opera were tragically disappointed, and the poor man died of syphilis, and all that, but I kept waiting for the historical bits to be over so I could get back to the present day.  I was much more interested in Phoenix – her music career, her parents, her boyfriends, etc than I was in old Joplin.

There was also a lot here I didn’t buy. Because even though Phoenix is definitely haunted by Joplin, sees his ghost, dreams she’s his wife, etc., it’s really the piano that is the bad news, and that had blighted Joplin’s life before it tried going after hers. It’s a real stretch for me to believe in a ‘piano of evil’, and I can’t help but wonder if the author ended up blaming everything on an inanimate object as a workaround because she wanted Joplin to be the ghost, but didn’t want him to be actually bad.

The scary ending didn’t work for me, because the majority of the book was more entertaining than scary, so when it came down to it, I really couldn’t feel the threat. This all sounds like criticism, but I gobbled the book right up, and am all set to rush right out and check out one of Due’s vampire stories.

(Don’t know who Scott Joplin is? You know his music, 100% for sure. I have a recording of some of his rags, but even I didn’t realize that the ubiquitous tune ‘The Entertainer‘ was his.)

Recommended readings:

Voodoo Dreams — Jewell Parker Rhodes

Baby Brother’s Blues — Pearl Cleage

Blood Colony — Tananarive Due

(Color Me Brown is an August challenge by Color Online)

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