Desert Isle Keeper Review
Last Dance at the Jitterbug Lounge
2008, Women's Fiction
MIRA, $13.95, 448 pages, Amazon ASIN 0778325199
Once I started reading Pam Morsi's Last Dance at the Jitterbug Lounge, I could hardly put it down, even when reaching for a Kleenex; it was such an emotional story and touched me on a personal level. I stayed up to 1:00 in the morning to finish the story and it was the first thing I thought of when I awoke bleary eyed, hours later.
Two parallel stories take place simultaneously in Morsi's ambitious novel. The first focuses on the life of Jack (aka Bud) Dempsey Crabtree while the second features the faltering marriage of his grandson Jack. There are no marked chapters; instead the book alternates between Bud's memories and what happens with Jack and Claire.
Bud's story is told in the first person. It could be because it is from a male perspective, but for once this narrative style actually worked for me. After a stroke Bud lies in a hospital bed. He appears unconscious to his family, but in actuality he is partially aware of his surroundings, and he begins to review his life mentally, from his childhood to his relationship with his wife Geri. He married Geri to protect her from some bad elements in their small town and so that she could provide support and companionship to his mother when he shipped out to the Pacific during World War II. It was not a love match on his part, and they got an annulment at the end of the war, but when he came back to town they began to date - and to dance at the Jitterbug Lounge whenever possible. The second time they marry it is for all the right reasons and Geri helps Bud deal with the nightmares his experiences in the war cause.
Jack is called to his estranged grandfather's bedside, accompanied, at the last minute, by his wife Claire. Jack is befuddled by all the relatives who show up at the hospital and has little experience in dealing with them, having been raised away from the family by his stepfather. Claire gets along much more naturally, and Jack both appreciates and resents her abilities. Jack is a successful businessman and used to being in charge; he doesn't know how deal with a situation where he cannot do anything but sit and wait, listening to the stories of his family. His own returning memories help him deal with some family issues, including those that are hurting his marriage to Claire.
Bud and Jack are the most well-rounded and complex male characters I have read in some time. Getting to know them, especially Bud, kept me turning the pages. Geri and Claire are not as carefully drawn as their male counterparts, but they do have their own clear personalities. Most of the minor characters are given some sort distinctive quirk or accoutrement to set them apart from one another.
I hope that there will be a sequel to this book. While it does have two story lines, Jack's is not fully completed by the end of the book. He still has issues with his stepfather to deal with, his business crisis to fix, and his marriage work on, plus staying in touch with his re-discovered relations.
I mentioned that the story got to me on a personal level - my father's nickname is Bud, he is WWII veteran, and though he enjoys relatively good health, I know that there will come a time when it will be my family in a hospital waiting room. I believe Last Dance at the Jitterbug Lounge will still have an impact on those who don't have that close of a connection to the story. But it is probably a good idea to have a box Kleenex handy.
-- Carolyn Esau
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