Happy New Year to all!To start a new year of wonderful reviews (it is our third anniversary today!) here is a suitable novel to compliment our last month's Story Song selection of short stories. Note that we are now also linking to Amazon Australia and Goodreads.
Shortlisted for Book Of The Month
Family drama /music
late 19th – Mid 20th Century
New York City
Mike Bernard is a musician with ambition. Having walked out of his job as piano teacher to May Convery and her sister, the daughters of a rich banker, he applies for a job as musical director at Tony Pastor's Music Hall. Surprisingly, for he is only nineteen, he succeeds and begins making a reputation for himself.
May Convery, two years younger than Bernard, is rebellious and wants to escape the proposed plans for her life which include a profitable marriage. She writes her emotions down as poetry and dreams of the life of the artist – a free spirit. She instigates an affair with Mike, they marry in secret, May falls pregnant but they are found out. May is dragged away and a swift annulment and a subsequent marriage to her original suitor are hastily organised. May is distraught that Mike did nothing to stop these events.
This is so much more than the story of Mike and May. It traces the rise of ragtime music, an essentially 'black' music in 'white' America. Mike's main rival is Ben Harney and they have a frosty relationship throughout.
It is also a cautionary tale: fame is fleeting no matter how great you were in your prime. The threads involved interweave, but are never drawn so tight as to confuse the reader. The characters are clearly defined – especially Mike whose confidence in his abilities are tinged with arrogance but his 'people skills' are most definitely lacking. Also covered are the treatment of black people – musicians especially – and the women's suffrage movement. We see the characters age, mature, fall in and out of love.
All the musicians and promoters mentioned were real people. Mike Bernard was known as 'Ragtime King of the World' and Harney claimed he was (and insisted on being billed as) 'The Originator of Ragtime'. Strap Hill, who introduces each section (or 'Act') was well known as Harney's sideman and the story of Harney's wife is also based on known facts.
It isn't necessary at all to know anything about music - or Ragtime in particular - as the author keeps the technical details to a minimum. And if you have noticed the coincidence of the author's name and the name of main protagonist, that is because the author's husband is the grandson of Mike Bernard.
Additional mention should be made of the cover; bright and attractive and telling you immediately what era the book is set in.
All in all, then, Temptation Rag is a book I can heartily recommend.
© Richard Tearle
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