"Supremely humane.... Kay leaves us with a broad landscape of sweet tolerance and familial love." —The New York Times Book Review
In her starkly beautiful and wholly unexpected tale, Jackie Kay delves into the most intimate workings of the human heart and mind and offers a triumphant tale of loving deception and lasting devotion.
The death of legendary jazz trumpeter Joss Moody exposes an extraordinary secret, one that enrages his adopted son, Colman, leading him to collude with a tabloid journalist. Besieged by the press, his widow Millie flees to a remote Scottish village, where she seeks solace in memories of their marriage. The reminiscences of those who knew Joss Moody render a moving portrait of a shared life founded on an intricate lie, one that preserved a rare, unconditional love.
A Scottish poet with a fresh and resonant voice makes her fiction debut with a novel about the life of a famous jazz musician, born female, who masquerades as a man. Like the real-life Billy Tipton, Scottish trumpet player Joss Moody has a wife, Millie, and a domestic life. No one except Millie knows the truth about his sex, which is revealed by the medical examiner only after his death. The issue of sexual identity is only one aspect of Kaye's intense and poetic narrative. Joss is black, and both he and his adopted son, Colman, suffer from pervasive racism in London. Kaye prismatically reflects Joss's life in vignettes from almost a dozen characters, some of them endearingly quirky, but the principal voices are those of Millie and Colman. Angry and bitter about having been deceived by his adoptive parents, Colman is a sour young man, without talent, drive or purpose, and his cooperation with a sleazy reporter who wants to write a tell-all book about Joss grants the narrative its main tension. Rather than sensational revelations, Kaye is interested in motivation and emotion, and her portrait of a distraught Millie is an incandescent study of grief. In conveying the nuances of an unconventional but passionate marriage, Kaye creates her own kind of prose music akin to the bittersweet melodies from Joss's trumpet. Once into the rhythm, however, Kaye cannot abandon its cadences: all the characters speak in the same short, lilting sentences and emphatic fragments, beautiful to the ear but not sufficiently differentiated. In the end, the mysteries of Joss's life remain ambiguous, but his courage in maintaining the sexual charade that allows him entree into the jazz world, and his legacy of love, provide the haunting motif of this richly evocative narrative. 40,000 first printing; author tour.