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Body and Soul [Kindle Edition]

J.P. Smith
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

After fleeing to Paris to escape communist rule, Polish émigré and piano player Jerzy Wozzeck finds it nearly impossible to support his family on his low-paying bistro gigs. So when a friend offers a fat payoff for handling a string of deliveries, Jerzy quickly finds himself in the uneasy employ of an anonymous suit and his sensual assistant. With a couple of flawless jobs under his belt, Jerzy starts living the good life—until, on one such run, he stumbles across a corpse and realizes his benefactors will go to any lengths to protect their operations.

To ensure his loyalty, Jerzy’s patrons ply him with every possible temptation, from the purest drugs to the most willing women—and he begins selling his soul piece by piece to maintain his illusion of prosperity. But when rival crime lords and hit men enter the fray, Jerzy plots to escape his boss’s dirty dealings—only to discover he’s in too deep to get out alive.

Editorial Reviews


“Smith creates a clever suspense yarn with a comic edge. But the fun is spread thin enough to see clearly what lies beneath: the bitter reckonings and hard realities of an émigré’s struggle to succeed.” —San Francisco Chronicle

From the Author

Body and Soul, my second novel, began as an experiment in improvisation; not the safest route to take for that risky second novel, but take it I did. Prior to that I'd written a very long (600-pages+) thriller entitled Yesterdays. I sent it to my agents in London and in NY, and both came back with enthusiastic reports. They both felt it could be a bestseller, and my New York agent said that he was left trembling by one particularly excruciating chapter (which I promise I will use once again, all these years later, probably in my next novel, as it really is bone-chillingly effective. Or at least I hope it still is).

It was seen by a number of editors, and when the man who would eventually edit Body and Soul saw it he understood at once what I was trying to do. "You are trying to write a bestseller, yes?" he said in his Austrian accent. "Who wouldn't?" I replied, and he said, "But you know what? You don't need to do this. Just come down off your high horse and write something from the heart." And though Yesterdays really was from the heart, I thought I'd set it aside and begin Body and Soul.

I've been a jazz fan since I was, oh, maybe fifteen or so. I went to school with a very cool guy who divided his time between his divorced parents' homes in Manhattan and Westchester, and who had been studying jazz drumming since he was much younger. He smoked like a fiend (it would eventually kill him), but he introduced me to this especially American art form. Though I looked thirteen, he could pass for twenty-seven, divorced and a seasoned drinker, so I tagged along when we went to the Village Vanguard, the Village Gate, Slug's on East Third, the Five Spot and wherever else someone amazing was playing. Among others, we saw Ornette Coleman and his trio, Bill Evans and his trio, Dizzy Gillespie, Yusef Lateef, Roland Kirk, Jaki Byard, and many, many other great names in jazz, including a glimpse of Miles Davis standing outside the Village Gate trying to hail a taxi.

We heard some astonishing music, and I was hooked. Until then I'd listened almost strictly to classical music (which I still love), had a brief folk phase (Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton, Pat Sky, Eric Anderson, et al. at the Gaslight Café in the Village), and was about to start listening to some serious Chicago blues, which would bring me into rock, and eventually place a bass guitar between my hands. After that I just wanted to be a rock star. But, until this day, jazz has always been an important part of my life.

When it came to Body and Soul, I decided to write a novel about a Polish jazz pianist, Jerzy Wozzeck (yes, for all those opera lovers who recognize the last name, I chose it very purposefully), who, while Poland was still under Soviet domination, comes to Paris to make his fortune. And because this is a whole new world for him, he has to improvise, just as he does every night at his club on the Left Bank of Paris.

So I decided to write the novel in the most improvised way I could, influenced by a number of French authors who were very successfully mixing genres: the policier, the crime novel, and the literary novel. I wanted the book to feel like jazz, with all its steps and missteps, its flatted fifths and subtle harmonies. 

It was a risky effort, because second novels that don't succeed often mean the kiss of death to one's writing career. But I decided to take the risk, and in many ways it led the way to my writing the darker, more nightmarish The Blue Hour. But my experience publishing Body and Soul with Grove Press, whose books had been so important to me over the years (Beckett, Pinter, among many others), and working with a fine editor whose son I coincidentally had taught many years earlier, was altogether rewarding. That, plus a nifty book jacket and some canny marketing, helped give this a boost at a time when that dreaded second title is often thrown to the critics for a serious drubbing.

Product Details

  • File Size: 436 KB
  • Print Length: 215 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas & Mercer (November 20, 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0081S9UH2
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #535,900 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Musical Cadence? February 12, 2013
Format:Kindle Edition
Jerzy Wozzeck, jazz musician from Warsaw, Poland, living and working in Paris, is forever caught in the clutches of hoodlums. In his native country his music was an insult to the state, a pustule on the immaculate face of socialist reality.
Jerry and his friend, Andrzej Kupke naively become couriers for a business called UniRex. He became a marked dead man before his time. The world became dangerous where behind every corner there was an ambush.
Jerry became addicted to drugs and all the vices of the underground world. The friends and their extended families head for London. They arrive wet and starving. Men in Gray suits sit in Knightsbridge. Men who desire his soul.
The phase book of fear is impressively rich. In the back of his mind he believes he might actually earn a plot in Pete Lachaise. A tangled web encircles his life. He longs only for his jazz and a simple life.
He's ordered to kill. The promise, afterward, he can be free again.
The cliffhanger creates a suspenseful puzzle. Jerry will never serve another master.
Maybe he will "spend eternity taking lessons from Monk and sharing dirty stories with Mingus..."
Thanks J. P., I enjoyed revisiting Europe.

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3.0 out of 5 stars excellent command of the English language June 20, 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I love the way this author writes - I was disappointed in the story - it began in a compelling way - the ending sunk
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3.0 out of 5 stars Body and soul February 28, 2013
Format:Kindle Edition
Was so close to the books I read that it was just ho hum and boring I hope they get better.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Two Stars November 23, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
the story itself was just a bore.I just coultn,t get in to it.
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More About the Author

Biography (by way of an interview)

So what's the origin of your new book Airtight?
--Some years ago my wife and I were watching Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown on cable. I'd seen it before, but now something about these middle-aged guys getting involved with crime nicked a memory. I turned to her and said, "We never dug it up."

Care to elaborate?
--Don't be ridiculous. People are still alive. Mostly me.

So is this autobiographical?
--This is the one book most directly drawn from my own experiences, especially during the Sixties.

Stop a second. One of the big events in the novel is when the main character, years earlier in college, sees something you call the Clear White Light during an LSD trip. Have you seen it?
--What he experiences in the first chapter is exactly what I experienced, up until the moment when Rob enters the room. Then the fiction begins.

Except for the rest of the autobiographical parts.
--Right. Enough said.

Let's go back to the book's origins. You were watching Jackie Brown--
--And because I'd originally imagined Airtight as a movie, I wrote it as a script under a different title, sent it to a few people in Hollywood with whom I'd met and who already liked my work, and though they loved the concept, the idea of casting two leads in their late forties--for my characters are an advertising executive and a Manhattan attorney, both suddenly out of work and desperate for money in our current economic downturn--is never an easy thing, especially when your target audience is fourteen-year-old boys. Nowadays I'd pitch it as Mad Men meets Easy Rider. Don Draper and Pete Campbell as Wyatt and Billy. And now Clooney and Pitt are the right ages for the leads. Two old college buddies who go back to dig up something they'd buried thirty years earlier, hoping it might turn out to save them.

It's a tale of desperate men resorting to desperate measures. When I finished it what came to mind was the John Huston movie with Humphrey Bogart, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. People scrabbling for their imagined salvation, increasingly at each other's throats. But Airtight is also a study of memory and regrets, how we make choices in our lives that haunt us for years to come, so it's a character study as well. For as the main character, Nick Copeland, discovers as he returns to his old college to dig up what he hopes will redeem his economic woes, true redemption comes from another place.

In a way it's my most accessible and, oddly, optimistic book. It's absolutely a moral tale. Writing it was a hugely liberating experience. Memory has always been a theme of my work, whether in screenplays or novels, and here I think it touches upon something universal--that as we move away from the past we lose sight of what once made us feel utterly, joyfully, human--this exuberance of youth, of feeling we're immortal, invincible. And yet by going back to it we also see that our decisions have consequences, that what we once said or did thirty years ago still reverberates today. Nick and Rob in the novel relive that, and, for Nick at least, it's like a kind of rebirth. It's the pain of memory and the need to make amends that tugs on his soul. I think what powers the story is the fact that these two guys are reliving the renegade times of their youth. As I wrote it I remembered things I hadn't thought about for years. Such as when I would-- Nah, forget it. The statute of limitations hasn't run out yet.

You left a perfectly good teaching job to move to London to start a writing career. Seems insane to me.
--The school was on the brink of bankruptcy, and I was making all of $9200 a year. I knew I had to make my move then, because in a year there would be no more school.

But you took the leap.
--This was in the late Seventies, when in order to get published you had to have an agent, but to get an agent you had to have been published, which left you feeling as if you were living inside a Kafka story. Occasionally I was able to get a New York agent to read (including, back when he was first getting started, the one I have now) and for a while I had an editor at Little, Brown eager to publish me, but she vanished. However, I was determined to become a writer. The British Home Office gave us permission to live for a year there, and each succeeding year we had to reapply.

We were able to live frugally, which is a euphemism for being dirt poor--paying around £20 a week rent, not owning a car, walking everywhere, eating very little. Museums were free (and warm; we were feeding an electrical meter back in our bedsit on ten pence coins, neatly stacked on top of it), theatre tickets were cheap, so we always had something to do, especially during what's become known as the Winter of Discontent, a season of strikes, electricity outages and the threshold of Margaret Thatcher's reign of terror at 10 Downing Street. That time is evoked very accurately in the recent film of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Lots of brown and beige set against a kind of dishwater gray. That first year turned into five.

We moved around for a few years--London, Lyme Regis (where daily we walked the Cobb, made famous in the film of our neighbor John Fowles's The French Lieutenant's Woman), then to Cambridge, where we remained for four years. There was no net to catch me, no other opportunities for me to fall back on. I had to become a writer.

Was it worth it?
--Absolutely. I learned a lot about discipline, especially from British writers and actors, who viewed their work not as some painful inner journey but simply as what they did, day after day. I like the story about John Hurt, who was shooting a film in, I think, Canada. He was working opposite a young American actor, preparing to shoot a scene meant to show the aftermath of a foot chase. The American spent his break doing push-ups and jumping-jacks and working up a sweat, while Hurt quietly enjoyed a cup of tea and a cigarette. The director told them to take their marks.

John Hurt handed his tea to an assistant, doubled over, turned red and broke into a sweat. The American, who'd been beating himself up for the past ten minutes, was amazed. "How did you do that, John?" "Simple," he said. "It's called acting."

What happened with the books?
--Apart from writing scripts, I continued to write a book a year, and it was only after we returned from the UK that my first novel--in fact the thirteenth I'd written--was accepted. It sold very quickly, a week or so after my agent in London had sent it out. The letter arrived from him the day before we were due to move back to London. My editor in London was convinced I was British, and thus he intended to put me up for all the awards limited to UK and Commonwealth writers, such as the Booker, the big one. Little did he know I was from just outside the Bronx. I'd simply learned the language.

This was which book?
--The Man from Marseille, originally published by John Murray, at the time the oldest publishing house still in private hands, located in the same building where Lord Byron's tell-all memoirs were burned by the overcautious founder of the firm. Once the book was out there was film interest. Dino De Laurentiis at Paramount was prepared to make an offer, but then so was an independent film production company who'd just wrapped their first feature starring a young actor named Liam Neeson. They'd seen my teleplays and wanted me to adapt the book. For my agent, that was the clincher, especially as two of the producers had established names in TV drama. As she said, neither she nor I would make much money out of it, but at least I'd write the script and be working for people who'd respect the work. And we might even get a good movie out of it. Names such as Jeremy Irons were bandied about for the lead role.

At the end of a year of development the project was dropped due to how expensive it would be to make. The settings range from Revolutionary Russia, to the South of France in the 1930's, to Paris in the Occupation, to modern-day London. Lots of expensive old Hispano-Suiza convertibles and location shooting in Nice. It's a tough book to adapt, because the narrator turns out to be not all that reliable, and much of the story is told in extended flashbacks. I wrote the novel in five weeks. The story seems to go one place, until you realize that what you've just read may all be a work of, well, fiction.

You still write scripts?
--Absolutely. It's a parallel career. I love writing them.

Is Airtight your first novel that could fit into a genre other than "literary fiction"?
--Although most of my published novels play with genre to some degree--The Blue Hour is a dark, surrealistic thriller set in Paris and based on the Orpheus myth; The Man from Marseille is a kind of detective novel in which the narrator investigates his own past; Body and Soul, a take on the darkly comic French roman noir, an experiment in improvisation, as the main character is a jazz pianist, but also a tale of how the West deals with Cold War emigrés; The Discovery of Light--a Barnes & Noble Discover Title--a contemporary thriller built around the paintings of Vermeer, about how something witnessed can be interpreted in a hundred different ways; while Breathless, also something of a mystery, is about the widow of a murdered man trying to get to the truth of his death.

Who originally published you?
--The Man from Marseille was, as I said, published by John Murray, and here in the US by St. Martin's Press. Body and Soul was a Grove Press book, The Blue Hour was brought out by British American Publishing (and only missed being a Paris Review edition under that imprint, because George Plimpton found it "too lurid," which I thought should have served as a blurb for the book), and The Discovery of Light and Breathless were Both Viking Penguin editions. One of the great things about being with my current publisher, Thomas & Mercer, is having these all back in print as a uniform edition.

(An expanded version of this originally appeared at The Nervous Breakdown in November 2012. JP Smith's website is:

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