‘Bluesman’ reads like a song

There are no clichés and no melodramatic moments in Andree Dubus’, “Bluesman,” a novel set in Heywood in the summer of 1967. With an array of thought-provoking characters and a crafty writing style, Dubus guides his audience through the events in the life of 17 year-old bluesman Leo Suther.

“Bluesman” outlines the various relationships Leo shares with the people of his small world, such as his extremely sexual girlfriend, Allie Donovan; Allie’s Communist father, Chick; Leo’s own father, Jim; and even Leo’s mother, Katie Faye, who passed away when he was just a small boy. All the while, Leo learns to play the blues with Jim and his long-time crony Ryder, which comes in handy as he learns more than a boy should know about the tough side of life.

The pages of Dubus’ novel seem to turn themselves as Leo’s story grows in intensity and complexity. Allie, with her gleaming blond hair and openly sexual demeanor, is a wonderful character, inciting love and hatred simultaneously, and torturing everyone she touches with her insensitivity and attraction. Chick Donovan is almost as intriguing, his kind disposition sharply contrasting his inherent beliefs. Interesting characters, smooth transitions and a gripping plot to make “Bluesman” a genuine page-turner.

The core of this novel lies in the blues, the music Jim has wallowed in since the death of his wife. Leo’s relationship with the blues is at first very personal, as he croons in his living room with only Jim, Ryder and, on some occasions, Allie. As the words Leo intones take on a deeper meaning, his musical talent is further brought to the public.

What remains after the last page of this novel has been read is an overwhelming sense of honesty. Dubus does not drown his audience in heartfelt emotions and happy endings. Rather, he details the many aspects of a world that makes men turn to the blues. Leo’s childish crush on the natural and beautiful Allie may be simple and pure, but while he does indeed “get the girl,” his relationship with her lacks the utopian quality of bookish young love. Rather than holding hands and passing notes in study hall, Leo submits to the intense sexual demands of the playful Allie, who is free with her body, despite the fact that she is too unsure of herself to truly love Leo.

Contrasting with the sexual nature of Leo’s relationship with Allie is the documented account of Jim’s love affair with his late wife, Katherine Faye. In the diaries of Katie Faye, Leo finds a loving description of the tender moments of his parents’ courtship and marriage, written from the memory of a dying Katie Faye. It is the loss of Katie Faye that has shaped the relationship between Jim and Leo, for Leo’s resemblance to his mother only frightens Jim. A reader can completely understand Jim’s attachment to Katie Faye, as her beauty shines throughout the novel.

The action of the novel involves Leo’s summer job as a carpenter for Chick Donovan’s remodeling business. Chick, a die-hard Communist, shares his views willingly in hopes of reforming the country. Leo, the beau of Chick’s daughter, listens without real comment. However, others are not as receptive to Chick’s radical thought, which develops into a true conflict testing Leo’s mental, physical and moral ability.

Dubus’ novel is altogether wonderful, with characters displaying the true imperfections of human nature and a storyline causing readers to both ache and cringe as Leo begins to understand things he never really knew. “Bluesman,” while a distinguished work, is also an easy read that should be appreciated and enjoyed by many.

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