Sunday, July 02, 2006

Sky: A Novel In Three Sets And An Encore

Sky: A Novel In Three Sets And An Encore by Roderick Townley

The Plot: All Sky cares about is his music; his father wants Sky to stop fooling around and get serious about school.

The Good: I have a pet peeve; books that are set in the recent past for no apparent reason. Seriously; if a book can as easily been set in the present, why put it in the past? My conclusion is that it's when the author grew up, and for whatever reason, chose to set the book during their own childhood/teenage years. I think its a bit lazy; today's teens aren't that different, even if clothing styles and slang is different; and so what if cell phones change what you can do with a plot?

Anyway, since that's a pet peeve, I always look at a book set in the past to ask, why?

Sky is a great example of a book that is set in the past for a reason. It could only happen in 1959; and it could only happen in New York.

Sky captures NYC, during a time and place that is unique enough and rich enough to demand a book. And the music, the jazz, is important -- so the book has to take place when jazz was new and fresh and dangerous.

I'm not a musician; I don't like jazz. But thanks to Townley's writing, I can feel and believe in Sky's love of jazz, get excited with him, share in the joy of listening and performing and creating.

Sky's New York is an exciting place that is not idealized: music, drugs, the local deli, the coffee shop and the subway, the freedom of a city that never sleeps with buses to take you anywhere combined with the restrictions of a strict father, private school, and a prejudiced society.

At the same time, this isn't some dusty look into the past. Sky confronts universal struggles: conflict with his father, a girl he likes, a problem with a teacher. While those conflicts could take place any place, any time, his salvation thru jazz makes this a story that has to take place in the New York of the 1950s.

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