Stanley Crouch is one of the great provocateurs in American letters, which has led Salon to call him "the bull in the black-intelligentsia China shop." Infamous for his controversial views on race, he loves to treat iconic figures such as Toni Morrison and Spike Lee as critical pincushions. However, he has built his career primarily as a reviewer and essayist. Don't the Moon Look Lonesome, then, represents his first attempt at fiction.
Crouch's novel tells the story of a mixed-race couple, both musicians, living in New York City. Maxwell is a black sax player; Carla is a white jazz singer. Their love for each other seems to transcend race--yet the great American dilemma keeps interfering, and as they try to gain acceptance from friends and family, jazz is the one thing that soothes them. In a typical altercation, a black man in a parking lot derides Carla as a "stringy-haired white girl." But as she listens to Maxwell perform immediately afterward, the very notes he plays seem like the best possible rebuttal, "more masculine and more tender and more androgynous and more than male or female or happy or sad or frightened or brave or knowing or befuddled than anything she had ever heard her man play."
Don't the Moon Look Lonesome is an awkwardly written novel, and a slow-moving one at that. Long passages are devoted to descriptions of the music Carla and Maxwell create, and while Crouch has inherited Albert Murray's mantle as one of our most lively jazz critics, his own voice merges with those of his characters in an odd and distracting way. They end up sharing both the author's appetite for provocation and his wordiness, which undermines the greatest mystery of music in the first place--its wordlessness. Crouch also has a propensity for bizarre metaphors attributed to inner states, a prime example being this thorny item: "the sudden spread of this interior cactus." Finally, female readers should be warned: one of Carla's major strengths is that despite her white skin, she has a black ass. Perhaps that's progress. And perhaps Crouch's editors were so intimidated by his reputation that they neglected to tell him when he was playing out of tune. --Emily White
From Library Journal
Jazz critic and essayist Crouch's first novel is a stylish love story told against the backdrop of the New York jazz scene. Carla, a white singer from South Dakota, and Maxwell, a black saxophone player of some renown, have been together for five years, but the pressures of race, art, success, and family threaten their future. As Carla searches through her memories of former loves for ways to break down the barriers between her and Maxwell, she struggles to find her own place in the competitive world of jazz. Crouch is at his best when writing about the music. His descriptions have a flow that makes the reader feel as though he or she is listening to a blues band or a gospel choir. Carla's thoughts have the cadence of an improvisational solo, going in various directions before returning to the original theme. While some of the dialog is talky and the main characters distant, those familiar with Crouch's nonfiction will want to read this novel, if only for its style. Recommended for larger collections.
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---Ellen Flexman, Indianapolis-Marion Cty. P.L.
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