Finalist of the 2023 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction
'Told in a rich array of voices, this gorgeously written debut explores the myriad syncopations of love and desire' Celeste Ng, author of Little Fires Everywhere
'Beautifully and cleverly written...The novel's tender, sensual, enchanting prose entices you into a world of deep longing' Deesha Philyaw, author of The Secret Lives of Church Ladies
Love is messy. Love can make us feel alive. It can also bring us down. Sometimes we look for it in all the wrong places. This is a novel about longing, desire and dreams; about passion and risk and all the places in between.
Maggie is pregnant with Circus Palmer's child. This may be her last chance, but she craves her freedom.
Pia is Circus's ex-wife, still in love with the fantasy of the man who conjured jazz tunes for her into the night, but who left many years before.
Koko, Circus's daughter, is lost in the maelstrom of teenage years, the confusion of awakening desire and yearning for the father she barely knows.
Peach is a barmaid who just wants someone to see the person she is inside.
Odessa is on the run from a mistake that can't be undone.
And then there's Circus, Circus Palmer, a jazz trumpeter whose moment of glory is fading. Selfish, damaged, scared, perhaps the only person Circus is fooling is himself.
Delivered in a lush orchestration of diverse female voices, Sweet, Soft, Plenty Rhythm is a provocative and gripping novel about the desire to be loved, and the need to belong.
'An exceptional debut...This story is an example of how love, in all of its polyrhythms, can sometimes sound like song, and other times like noise. And this book is an example of how a great story can become a bass drum, kicking and thumping in your belly far after it's over. A modern masterpiece.' Jason Reynolds, author of Look Both Ways
'Soulful... Elegant, unexpected and wrenching as the "fierce" sounds that emerge from Circus's trumpet . . . Unforgettable' New York Times Book Review
'[An] emerging literary superstar . . . This sensual and sensuous debut is a kaleidoscopic character study, a polyphonic riff on the modern-day Casanova from the perspectives of the myriad women in his wake' Oprah Daily
'A sultry and subversive debut. Laura Warrell's prose sparkles, but it's what she's got to say about sex and love and being a woman that will take your breath away. This book is a love song, and Warrell knows how to hold all the right notes.' Rachel Beanland, author of Florence Adler Swims Forever
'Jazz music is to be played sweet, soft, plenty rhythm,' proclaimed Jelly Roll Morton, and Warrell plays her exceptional first novel with plenty of rhythm and tenderness, delivered in brisk, mordantly gorgeous language' Library Journal
'A book about desire and about love, about where these emotions meet and part and sometimes interlace in inescapable ways...a classic in the making.' Brian Castleberry, author of Nine Shiny Objects
Warrell unfurls in her engaging debut the story of a peripatetic trumpet player. Circus Palmer, a touring 40-year-old jazz musician and lothario, has recently learned in Miami that his main love interest, drummer Maggie Swan, is pregnant. Circus, ever the ladies' man, panics, rushing back to his home turf in Boston ("It was the going he liked, liked the unclasping of links, liked getting to whatever was waiting at the other end of leaving," Warrell writes). His former wife, Pia, still quietly clinging to hope for reconciliation, manages to keep him involved in raising their 15-year-old daughter, Koko, who's beginning to have her sexual awakening. Meanwhile, a long-awaited meeting with a producer ends badly for Circus, sending him on a bender. Soon thereafter, Circus, pining for Maggie, visits instead a girlfriend in Providence, a trip that irrevocably alters his future. The author evocatively describes the women who inspire Circus's music and his lust—one brings his playing to ecstatic heights by shimmying her shoulders; another makes his horn "coo" with her "girlish giggle"—and finds the sadness deep in his heart. Warrell hits all the right notes.