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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Joplin's Ghost by Tananarive Due

Joplin's Ghost by Tananarive Due. New York: Atria Books, 2005. ISBN: 978-0-7434-4903-8

This book is dedicated to the author's “new son,” but also to Jan Hamilton Douglas, 1939-2002, Curator of the Scott Joplin House, “for telling me about the ghost.” Unfortunately, Douglas died suddenly, before the author had a chance to actually talk to him about the subject in depth.

In her author's note at the end of the book, Due states that “I do not write about the supernatural because of my own experiences . . . My stories about the supernatural are shaped by conjecture and conversations with readers and sources who are insistent about the things that have happened to them. So my interest in Joplin's ghost was purely in terms of what kind of story it might become.”

That's a relief! I have to keep reminding myself that this is a work of fiction, after all, since the further into it I got, the less believable it became, or rather, the less able I became to suspend my sense of disbelief. I picked up the book because of its musical connections. I have always enjoyed reading fiction with musical connections because of my own life as a musician, and as a bookworm. Combining the two interests often makes for interesting and entertaining reading.

That is the case here. A young black woman named Phoenix, just launching her career as a pop music star, becomes haunted by the ghost of Scott Joplin. The ghost resides particularly strongly in an old piano, which apparently Joplin played in the last days of his life, as he was dying of syphilis in a mental institution. Phoenix apparently physically resembles Joplin's second wife, the almost forgotten young and beautiful Freddie Alexander.

The early parts of the book are the most compelling in my view. Phoenix in her rise to stardom is a likable and precocious young woman, and I enjoyed exploring the world from her perspective. But as the book winds down to its dramatic conclusion, replete with physical and psychic possession, I became less and less persuaded. I have to admit that my own fundamentalist upbringing makes me particularly resistant to this type of story.

Nevertheless, moderately recommended. If you're interested in any of the following: Scott Joplin, modern pop music, and/or ghost/possession stories, you should enjoy this book.

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