cover image The Jazz Palace

The Jazz Palace

Mary Morris. Doubleday/Talese, $25.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-385-53973-9

Morris's first novel since 2004 puts her many gifts to use in a story of creativity, music, resilience, and love in Prohibition-era Chicago. In 1915, Benny Lehrman and Pearl Chimbrova encounter each other as teenagers as the SS Eastland sinks before their eyes, with three of Pearl's brothers aboard. In the years that follow, Benny%E2%80%94who feels dogged by tragedy%E2%80%94grows up fascinated not by Lehrman's Caps, the factory he is expected to run some day, but by the nascent musical genre called "jass." Recognizing Benny's talent as pianist and composer, trumpeter Napoleon Hill takes Benny to play beside him at the Jazz Palace, the speakeasy Pearl has created to help take care of her siblings. Music helps all three prosper, but it can't protect them from the privations of the Depression, the violence of the mob, or the barriers of discrimination. Meanwhile, Pearl and Benny are drawn to each other, but Benny's self-doubt and Pearl's seductive younger sister, Opal, complicate their relationship. As fluid and nuanced as the music it celebrates, Morris's narrative brings physical details, the power of music, and the sweeping history of Chicago (the author's hometown) to memorable life. Real events and figures weave seamlessly into the lives of three characters fighting to claim their authentic identities despite family, cultural, and inner resistance. (Apr.)