cover image BLUES LESSONS


Robert Hellenga, . . Random, $25 (336pp) ISBN 978-0-7432-2533-5

A young man growing up in the Midwest during the '50s comes to terms with the problematic legacy of his first love in Hellenga's heartfelt, provocative third novel. Martin Dijksterhuis is the high school student who is forced to grow up in a hurry when his attraction for an African-American girl named Cory Williams leads to the birth of their child. He is willing to marry Cory and settle into a life of working the family's idyllic orchards in tiny Appleton, Mich., but both Cory's and Martin's mothers have other plans. Martin is heartbroken when the girl leaves town. When he learns that his mother paid off the Williams family to keep Cory from distracting him from his college education, he enlists in the navy in a fit of rebellion and then goes to work for the Railroad Post Office after his discharge. He continues to keep track of Cory as he moves toward his true calling as a blues musician, and, while her romantic interest in him has waned, he is able to repair the relationship enough to become a factor in the life of their daughter, Cozy. Hellenga (The Fall of a Sparrow) displays a sure touch as he probes a mid-century interracial relationship, and he effectively steers Martin through his initial romantic fervor and into his desire to establish a relationship with his daughter. This is a quietly graceful novel with a complex story and a multifaceted cast of characters—and the icing on the cake is the author's lyrical writing about the blues. Agent, Henry Dunow. (Jan. 21)