cover image Sweet, Soft, Plenty Rhythm

Sweet, Soft, Plenty Rhythm

Laura Warrell. Pantheon, $28 (368p) ISBN 978-0-5933-1645-0

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. Agent: Chad Luibl, Janklow & Nesbit Assoc. (Sept.)