After reading THE SEA DREAMS IT IS THE SKY, I became an instant fan of John Hornor Jacobs. A LUSH AND SEETHING HELL reassured me that my respect and high esteem for the man was earned and well placed.
This book is comprised of two stories, the first a novella, (the aforementioned THE SEA DREAMS IT IS THE SKY), and the second, a short novel titled MY HEART STRUCK SORROW. This review is going to focus almost solely on the second tale. When I saw on Twitter that this book was coming out, I clicked the pre-order button right away. (There wasn't a description there yet, and I didn't know that THE SEA DREAMS IT IS THE SKY was going to be included. When I did discover that, I didn't care because...support.) You can find my review of THE SEA DREAMS IT IS THE SKY here:
THE SEA DREAMS IT IS THE SKY
I went into MY HEART STRUCK SORROW almost totally blind. I was excited to find out that music was a central theme to this tale. I'm a lover of Blues music and I'm fascinated by many of the old artists who were the basis for a lot of the popular music of today. You cannot imagine how stoked I was to find a deep connection with music from the old south in this book.
Cromwell and Harriet are called in to the Parker estate to itemize and catalog Parker's extensive collection of old acetate recordings and journals. I loved this way of framing the story as we are then taken to Parker's point of view for much of the book. He was traveling the south interviewing and recording musicians as an ethnomusicologist, (like the real-life Alan Lomax), dedicated to capturing and preserving music. He traveled with a SoundScriber, the heavy, awkward machine with which he recorded said musicians.
These artists and the areas in which they lived were brought to vivid life in my mind's eye. I easily pictured them. I smelled them. I felt the humidity and heat of the south. I felt the humanity in their songs, and how they changed from one town to another, especially the songs about Stagger Lee. (Or Stacker Lee, or whatever title was used.)
"In Mississippi, in the delta of Arkansas and northern Louisiana, they speak in harsh tones, clipped syllables, as if their entire morphology of communication were angry and inflamed."
One of the men he interviews, Honeyboy, is actually in prison. Parker is able to obtain permission to interview and record him. During those scenes I came across this passage:
"Even the guards laughed at this, and for a while the barracks were full of the laughter of incarcerated men. They sounded like any group of men gathered together. Each full of his own particular sorrow, his mirth, his guilt, the comet's tail of his existence pulling wreckage after him."
This got me to thinking about my comet's tail and what kind of wreckage I carry around within it.
Jacobs deftly weaves the threads of the past and the present, most especially those of Parker and Cromwell. Turns out they had a few things in common. I didn't see what they were at first, but as this tale unraveled, I did. Grief, loss and most of all, guilt, come to each life-how we handle those things, or not handle them as the case may be, made for an engaging and stunning denouement.
I find myself lacking the words and/or skills to properly communicate to you how this book made me feel and why I think you should read it. The tales within are distinctly different from each other, one more a tale of torture, politics and cosmic horror, the other- for me, being at heart a story of loss, guilt, and grief, well framed and partially hidden in a tale about blues and folk music. I'm not going to pretend that I "got" everything there is to get with this story, I already know I will read it again. I'm not going to pretend that I know a lot about ethnomusicology, but I can say I want to learn more about it and about Alan Lomax in general.
Leaving behind my inadequacies in getting across how this tale made me feel, I'll wrap with saying that both stories here are extremely well written, unique, thought provoking and powerful. I'll leave you with this quote:
"We are sound waves crashing against the shore with no SoundScriber to take down our likeness, our facsimile. Words like these are just echoes of that original sound. We are but small vibrations on the face of the universe."
With that, my fellow small vibration on the face of the universe, I give A LUSH AND SEETHING HELL my HIGHEST recommendation!
Available everywhere October 8th, but you can pre-order here: A LUSH AND SEETHING HELL
*Thanks to Harper Voyager and NetGalley for the e-ARC in exchange for my honest feedback. I'm buying the book anyway, but I got to read it sooner this way!*
**Please forgive me for the quotes, but I felt they were necessary to help convey me feelings.**