Thursday, February 21, 2013
The first half of A Good American by Alex George is really interesting. Jette and Frederick immigrate to America around the turn of the century and settle in Beatrice, Missouri. They are German, as is the majority of the town. They have a couple children and then Frederick goes and joins WWI, with predictable results. The book continues on through American history, with Jette, and her kids and grandkids. The first half, with the immigration experience and a lot of great detail about blues, jazz, and other music of the time is quite enjoyable. I loved seeing them set up a life and the struggles to keep up with the times. I often turned on Songza to a blues or jazz playlist while I read. (Turning Songza on to a blues playlist is incredibly common for me, but I have yet to learn to love jazz.)
Unfortunately, the second half, which begins about when the narrator is born, completely changes. The entire book is narrated by Jette's grandson James, so perhaps the change happens when it starts to talk about the parts of his life that he remembers, but I much preferred to read his history. The small bits of foreshadowing in the first half become and every other page bits of foreshadowing. The believable history of a family in the first half becomes a series of ridiculous people and their actions (and deaths.) By the end, it felt like a parody of a family history. The focus on music changed, and was not longer about the love of music itself.
That said, the book does have some really great moments. I loved watching Frederick learn English, and the romance between Cora and Joseph, James's father. There's a scene in New Orleans at the beginning, where Frederick hears jazz for the first time that is wonderful. There are some memorable characters as well; Lomax, who plays music and cooks soul food; Polk, who works at the bar; Freddy, who has the best story of anyone, except Frederick himself. There are also quite a few that seem to be there for impact; Morrie, the gentle giant, Rankin Fitch, Mrs. Fitch, the entire sub-plot of Reverend Gresham and Teddy.
I'm sure I won't stop thinking about some of the final revelations for a few days, and I'm going to have to go back and re-read a couple pivotal scenes to look for clues. Overall though, it was just ok, and I don't see myself ever choosing to read or recommend it.
You can join the discussion at BlogHer by clicking this link. The first discussion question has been posted, "What foods are are part of your gastronomic mosaic?", which you can answer here. You can find Alex George online here, and on Twitter.