cover image Driving the King

Driving the King

Ravi Howard. Harper, $25.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-06-052961-1

Howard (Like Trees, Walking) brings readers back in time to postwar Alabama, in this velvety smooth fictional memoir. The story starts on the day of a long-awaited concert in Montgomery in 1956, featuring native son Nat King Cole. The narrative returns to this day repeatedly, but the events of the novel begin a decade before. Nathaniel Weary is just back from the European front and is looking forward to a concert by Cole, his now-famous childhood friend. During Cole’s first song, though, he is attacked by a white man, and Weary literally leaps from the balcony to the singer’s defense. Cole is saved but Weary is sentenced to 10 years in prison for “inciting a riot.” Howard moves back and forth in time, describing Weary’s days at war, his recollections of his family, his time in prison, and, eventually, his years in L.A. as Cole’s driver and bodyguard. This story about a strong man, living with his head held high, is set against the backdrop of Jim Crow and the Montgomery bus boycott. Howard’s prose goes down like the top-shelf whiskey that Weary favors, making for a heady reading experience. (Jan.)