cover image AXEMAN'S JAZZ


Tracy Daugherty, . . SMU, $22.50 (232pp) ISBN 978-0-87074-481-5

A multiracial woman's search for her father leads her deep into her family's fractured history in Daugherty's latest (after Desire Provoked), a stimulating but uneven novel that puts the racial politics of the city of Houston under the microscope. Telisha Washington, a city planner in Dallas, returns to Houston after her mother's death, determined to piece together her past. Moving in with her Uncle Bitter, a good-natured, hard-drinking man she once loved like a father, she also rekindles her friendship with her cousin Ariyeh, now a teacher. The family mysteries begin with her grandfather, Cletus Hayes, an African-American soldier who was accused of rape and executed after an incident of racial rebellion in Houston just after WWI. Washington visits the scene of his lynching and investigates the charges that led to his death. Meanwhile, she explores the down-and-out neighborhoods where she grew up, searching the city's blues bars for traces of the father she never knew, and shares memories of her mother with her uncle and cousin. Questions of race and identity torment Washington, who passes as white, but thinks of herself as African-American; other racial quandaries are explored in a series of running dialogues pitting the old-school ideas of Uncle Bitter against those of Ariyeh's boyfriend Reggie, a political activist and deal-maker. Washington is a combative, compelling protagonist, and Daugherty's dialogue-based scenes give color to the narrative, but the discussion of racial politics threatens to overwhelm the story, and underplotting slows the pace to a fitful crawl. (Sept.)