Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Girl, What? Welcome, Ms. Hayes

I'm a little beside myself because I researched Charlotte Carter’s Nanette Hayes three-book series a number of times only to jump into it with the second book, Coq au Vin. I ordered it thinking it’s the first, which is actually Rhodes Island Red. And you know how anal retentive I am, finding it necessary to read series in order. Not exactly sure what happened, but I’m here and will go back to give this series a proper start. In the future.  So despite my misstep, I did enjoy Coq au Vin and my introduction into Carter’s New York native, jazz playing, smack-talking amateur sleuth, Nanette Hayes.

So until I can go back and speak about this series from the start, I'd better go ahead and begin where I am.

Nanette’s Aunt Vivian has always been a men-loving, money-hungry firecracker. And now she’s an international one, having left America for Paris years ago to indulge in her impulses. She has since gone rogue from a family that didn't too much care for her ways to begin with. Nonetheless, she’s always had a special relationship with her niece, Nanette “Nan” Hayes. So when Aunt Vivian sends a postcard and a telegram to Nanette’s mother relying danger, the family can't help but worry. Yet… they also sigh with exhaustion. While Nanette’s father wants nothing else to do with his sister, it’s Nanette’s mother who gives her daughter the task of seeking out her aunt in Paris. And it would've been easy to reject if Nanette didn't have the added responsibility of handing Vivian her inheritance. Unfortunately, by the time Nanette lands in France, Aunt Vivian has long been missing.

Coq au Vin takes you places. Places where you may forget what’s happening in the book as it relates to the mystery and/or purpose of Nanette in Paris. There are even moments when Nanette took note of how un-progressive she’s been in regard to finding her aunt, usually because she‘s busy sexing up her Paris boyfriend or looking for a place to eat. So in that situation, it never felt like a story with much at stake or any urgency as Nanette fluttered about Paris semi-sorta taking stock of little clues related to her aunt‘s disappearance. Simply put, Carter sprinkled the setup in the beginning, and it wasn't until near the end where it felt as if she crammed in her focus.

So instead, between those two points, more than once I felt like I verged off into a Parisian instant-love story, a black-conscience dialogue (which was the best), or a music history lecture. The book comes loaded with the history of blues and jazz music, from America to Paris. Topped with descriptions of Paris's locales as well, which wouldn't be so bad if you're familiar with the city and didn't require a little research. It goes into the world of the Paris jazz scene also. From the streets to the night clubs. However, you may find yourself wondering, repeatedly, why am I here and what’s the progress of the mystery, or the catalysis to all of these events. And personally, I'm always startled in a mystery book when a protagonist gathers a lead, but decides to go to a nightclub to dance instead of chasing it down. Focus, people. Focus.

The surprises along the way are limited. Some that I conceived would've probably really set the book off. Nonetheless, at last, it all sort of came together, except for a few characters who went off and were never heard from again. While I was over Nanette’s outbursts and arguments, I can say that she made a fantastic protagonist. Especially because she’s black, a woman, and is aware of both these things and how she relates–and is seen–by the world. Even in a place miles away from her New York roots.

I'll leave a few of my favorite moments from Nanette down below…

"Like every musician, probably, I had often wondered what it was like to play high on drugs.  All the cornball stuff crosses your mind:  does the heroin unlock some door in your soul?  Does it makes you better?  I don't just mean, does it make you play better.  I mean, are you better, however briefly

For all my musical forefathers, it had to do more than just make the pain go away.  God.  Negroes and their pain.  What the fuck were we going to do if suddenly it all did go away?  Would be even know who we were anymore?"

"I wanted to say something more than that, but I couldn't quite form the words yet.  The permutations of our relationship to the whole of America were endless.  You could hate white people but not hate America.  You could come to terms with the racism but never accept the insipid culture.  You could view our disenfranchisement as a kind of massive swindle–all that blood, sorrow, loyalty, hope, and patience deposited over the centuries, and the check keeps bouncing.  You could simply self-destruct.  Like I said, endless.  I figured I'd hear the particulars of his take on the thing soon enough."

"'My blackness is not open to challenge.  My father was black, so that means I'm black.  Period.  I guess what I mean is, my people deserve to be honored by me, and I'm serious about doing that–but I deserve some honor too, right?  Who doesn't?'"

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