cover image Dirty Bird Blues

Dirty Bird Blues

Clarence Major / Author Mercury House $22.95 (280p) ISBN 978-1

In postwar Chicago, an African American man crawls in through a stranger's window from the fire escape, in the process getting a belly full of buckshot. But the situation is not what you might assume. Manfred is a blues singer and father whose wife has run off with the preacher (the wielder of the shotgun). Man's a good fellow, but weak, with no-account buddies like the guitar-picker Solly and a predilection for Old Crow bourbon (the dirty bird of the title). Not that Man doesn't try to set himself right now and again. After walking himself to the hospital--with a pause to help out an abused wife--and wallowing for a few weeks in self-pity, he bids a rollicking goodbye to his wife, Cleo, and abandons Chicago for Omaha, where his sister and a more sober life await. There, he finds work as a welder. Although he doesn't quite quit the booze, he convinces Cleo to join him. Things are looking up, but trouble--in the form of Solly--follows, and Man gets fired. Soon, it's a toss-up whether he will dry out and keep his family together or become a carbon copy of his abusive father. In his first novel in eight years, Major (Painted Turtle: Woman with Guitar) cleverly demonstrates the pervasive racism that's part of the black experience. He's a rhythmic writer with a good ear for the music of the American vernacular. Although the blues refrains that run through Man's mind ring more calculated, and hence annoying, than true, the choices this flawed hero must make are compelling and weighty. The result is a novel that's moving--and highly enjoyable. (June)