John Nickel is a black ex-jazz musician who only wants to be a good father. But when his son is taken away from him, he's left with nothing but the Memphis bar he manages. Then he hires Fay, a young white waitress, who has a volatile brother named Carl in tow. Nickel finds himself consumed with the idea of Taft—Fay and Carl's dead father—and begins to reconstruct the life of a man he never met. But his sympathies for these lost souls soon take him down a twisting path into the lives of strangers.
|Product dimensions:||5.80(w) x 5.60(h) x 1.10(d)|
About the Author
Ann Patchett is the author of several novels and books of nonfiction. She has won many prizes, including Britain’s Orange Prize, the PEN/Faulkner Prize, and the Book Sense Book of the Year. Her novels Bel Canto and The Patron Saint of Liars have been made into major motion pictures. Her work has been translated into more than thirty languages. She has written for many publications including the New York Times, The Atlantic, the Washington Post, and Vogue.
J. D. Jackson is a theater professor, aspiring stage director, and award-winning audiobook narrator. He is a classically trained actor, and his television and film credits include roles on House, ER, Law & Order, Hack, Sherrybaby, Diary of a City Priest, and Lucky Number Slevin. He is the recipient of more than a dozen Earphones Awards for narration and an Odyssey Honor for G. Neri’s Ghetto Cowboy, and he was also named one of AudioFile magazine’s Best Voices of the Year for 2012 and 2013. An adjunct professor at Los Angeles Southwest College, he has an MFA in theater from Temple University.
Date of Birth:December 2, 1963
Place of Birth:Los Angeles, California
Education:B.A., Sarah Lawrence College, 1985; M.F.A., University of Iowa, 1987
Read an Excerpt
I had such a wave of sickness come over me that I thought I was going to throw up, but by the time I walked into the bathroom it had calmed some and I poured myself a glass of water from the tap and went back to the bed. Four in the morning. I held my eyes open to keep from seeing the part where he was falling.
Then for no reason at all I thought of that girl Fay. I didn't know where she lived. I didn't have her phone number so I could call her and tell her that she couldn't have the job, if I was to decide not to give it to her. I couldn't call to find out if she was okay if I was to go in tomorrow and not find her. It wasn't that I wanted to think about her, but by seeing her face I could make myself not see Franklin's, so I thought about her. I could barely fix her in my mind, the thin skin on her temples, the red that the cold put on her cheeks. I couldn't remember the color of her eyes or if her straight hair that wasn't blond or brown was cut into bangs the way so many girls her age like to wear their hair these days. I wondered where in the east she came from. I wondered who was looking out for her. Who made her that ugly hat. I remembered how careful she was when it came time for her to cross the street and it made me feel comforted. Someone taught her what to watch for. But then, they didn't teach her well enough if she was wandering down to Beale looking for work in bars. There was no watching them every minute, Marion. We can't be everywhere. What are you going to do but teach them to look?
Reading Group Guide
1. At the start, John Nickel seems to see Fay and Carl in terms of someone else's children that he is tempted to father. Clearly, his relationship to Fay changes: Why? What is the connection, in his head, between romance and parenthood?
2. Why do Fay and John go to Shiloh?
3. The scenes of Levon Taft's life aren't real; they are imagined by John Nickel. Why is John so interested in Fay and Carl's father? What does it mean that John imagines Levon Taft in relation to black children, first the boy who is selling chocolates and later the boy at the wrestling meet in Memphis?
4. How do you interpret the last scene in the book? Why does the author choose to end with a scene in which Taft, Fay, and Carl are all much younger than they have previously appeared in the story? Why not end the book with John and Franklin?
5. The action of this novel takes place over a very short period of time, about ten days. How would this have been a different story if it had taken place over a year?
6. The neck plays an important role in this book: John feels the lingering touch of Fay's hand on his neck; Mrs. Woodmore scratches and scars John's neck when he is late for Franklin's birth; Carl shoots the deer in the neck though his father tells him not to, and later he shoots John through the neck. Is there any connection between these events?
7. How do you feel about an author writing outside his or her own race and gender? Would you think this book had more validity if it were written by a black man?
8. The blues are a strong presence in the book, and yet they remain offstage. We never see John perform as a drummer. How important is his life as a musician to the way in which we understand his character?