Thursday, August 6, 2015

Joplin's Ghost by Tenanarive Due

Rating: WARTY!

This was an audio book read uninspiringly by Lizan Mitchell.

This novel is centered on Scott Joplin - not Janis Joplin, who doesn't even come close to him as a musical talent. Phoenix Smalls is an R&B singer who had an almost deadly encounter with a piano at the age of ten. Fourteen years later, she's launching her career in music, but during a visit to St Louis she encounters Scott Joplin's ghost and worse, his psychotic piano. As ragtime - a musical genre that wasn't invented by Joplin, but for which he became a popularizer and ambassador most notably with his Maple Leaf Rag - starts to infiltrate her very bones, the question becomes one of survival. Can Phoenix rise from the ashes of Joplin's career and his ghostly influence and own herself?

If Stephen King had written this novel, no one would have thought twice about it, but because this story about the King of ragtime wasn't written by the so-called King of Horror, and instead has the astounding name of Tananarive Due, it appears it's come in for some criticism. I can understand some, but not all of it. That part I do understand is how wordy this novel is - far too wordy in the style of Stephen King, who can't tell a story without vomiting the entire life history of even minor characters. That said, while this book started out interestingly enough, it soon became tedious with the main story being brought to a dead halt by fictionalized flashbacks to Joplin's life. For me that spoiled the story - the modern haunted story which is what I wanted to hear.

And what's with the music? Way the hell too many audio books want to add music to the mix - music which is jarring and screechy and too loud and nothing whatsoever to do with the story. For the love of beat leave it out! In this case the story was about music, so I could see a case for it, and I understand (rightly or wrongly!) that this book, in print form, may have come with an audio disk, which is all well and good, but to add snatches of unidentified Joplin music randomly throughout the disk was nothing but annoying and was one of the things which turned me off this.

Joplin contracted syphilis and suffered dementia in 1916 onwards, dying a year later in a psychiatric institution at the age of 49. He was pretty much forgotten until the early seventies when three albums of his work, and a movie (The Sting) - which had nothing to do with him, but which featured his music - were released. That was about the same time that his anonymous pauper's grave finally got a stone identifying him. That was a tragedy but not as big of a tragedy as this book turned into. I can't recommend it.

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