Bart Schneider, 1998
Viking, 244 pages
Bart Schneider brings us the story of the Chet Baker-ish Ronnie Reboulet, five years after he's walked away from his trumpet, singing and hard dope. It's the mid-1970's, with the Patty Hearst kidnapping as context. Ronnie, now in his late 40's, has returned to his native San Francisco, works at a golf course and lives with Betty, undoubtedly one of the most wonderful human beings in literature. Soon to enter the picture are Rae, Ronnie's confused twenty year old daughter whom he hasn't seen in years, and Quincy, the grandson he doesn't know exists.
Ronnie has nightmares about singing and tries to avoid listening to jazz on the radio. Yet his association with jazz doesn't seem particularly bitter. He fondly relates stories of Bird, Dexter Gordon,Louis Armstrong and a host of fictitious jazz colleagues. Betty and Rae mildly encourage him to sing or play but it's on is own terms that Ronnie eventually fashions a modest return to music.
Bart Schneider brings a real humanity to Blue Bossa. I cared about what happened to these characters. A good sense of place was created (does San Francisco really have that many bakeries?). I personally could have done without the Patty Hearst connection, but that theme did bring one of the more humorous moments of the novel.
The author's literary abilities are impressive, whether describing Charlie Parker's antics in a restaurant or having Ronnie's ex-wife Cat describe his playing: "And when he took the trumpet out and blew those sweet and easy lines, the sound so fresh and intimate, it was as if little doors and windows had opened everywhere". Now that's writing.