Wednesday, 16 October 2019

A Drop of Patience - William Melvin Kelley

I was blown away by the publication last year of the 'lost' masterpiece, 'A Different Drummer' so I was excited beyond words to read another of Kelley's novels. The guy is surely one of the most important voices in black American literature. And if '....Drummer' whetted my appetite for Kelley's words then '....Patience' has rendered me impatient to read more.

What better way to explore racism than through the eyes of a blind man. And what better way to expose the blindness in us all as we read the account of Ludlow Washington's life. Against a backdrop of the US jazz scene the syncopation and improvisation of the music serves as metaphor for the life of a blind, black man abandoned to a children's home by his parents in a manner that will squeeze your heart.

'A Drop of Patience is the story of a gifted and damaged man set apart - by blindness, by race, by talent - who must wrestle with adversity and ambition to generate the acceptance and self worth that have always eluded him.'

No spoiler, for you can read the above on the back cover and it serves as a perfect summary of this captivating and compelling novel. Whilst the plot is clearly of an America several decades ago there are some contemporary considerations that endure, that of disability and racism, of growing up and falling in love. Kelley deals with it all so sensitively and without sensationalising anything which makes it all the more potent. Ludlow is such a special character, so innocent yet with an inner wisdom that seems to defy the circumstances of his upbringing. Largely unloved for his early years it seems to be the grail he is seeking but his race, disability and musical gift thwart any dreams he may have of true happiness. He searches for true love and a love of the truth. For who will tell it like it really is?

Kelley's style is that of the true story teller. A narrative that flows easily with characters that step off the page and, often, into your heart you're instantly immersed into the tale desperate to know how things turn out for Ludlow but equally, not wanting the story to end. Structurally straightforward a story told chronologically with the various parts of the book prefaced by extracts from an older Ludlow's interview, which is effective since it offers the reader his 'take' after the event so to speak. 

Put Thelonious Monk on the player and let that great man play a soundtrack to your reading. The jazz writing is some of the best I've read. I used to think Jack Kerouac couldn't be surpassed, this comes close. And whilst jazz is never 'just' music, it's a discipline, this book conveys that most succinctly. It's superb.

My thanks to Ana McLaughlin for a copy of this wonderful book. 

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