FIDDLER'S DREAM

A young fiddler leaves home with a twofold mission: to make it big in Nashville and to find his father.

A young fiddler leaves home with a twofold mission: to make it big in Nashville and to find his father.

Jesse Alison has been living alone with his mother in Vermont since his singer/guitarist father, Hank, abandoned them when Jesse was eight. Now Jesse is 19, and it's time for him to leave, too. He loves his mother, but her neediness overwhelms him. (Their situation is reminiscent of the mother-son relationship in Spatz's debut, No One But Us, 1995.)

Jesse has won statewide fiddle contests, though with his father absent, the victories felt hollow; his idol is bluegrass patriarch Bill Monroe, and his dream is to be one of his Bluegrass Boys. Driving south, Jesse gets some bad news: Monroe has had a heart attack. In Nashville he stays with Genny, a former Vermont neighbor and second mother to him. She's a lesbian who makes and repairs violins. Genny introduces him to the lively Nashville scene; it's a shame Spatz renders it so tepidly, concentrating on Jesse's immersion in the sounds of his fellow musicians rather than the human interactions.

Jesse has a bright future, but before lining up any gigs, he moves on to Mississippi to track down his father, taking with him a red violin Genny has been repairing. Jesse finds Hank living with Grace, a black gospel singer, and managing her career; he no longer plays himself. It's an awkward reunion. Jesse wants details of his past, but Hank can't tell him much, not even his birthplace; he wasn't around. He admits to being "a dog and a coward," but Jesse knew that already.

His reality check does lead to one epiphany: He will never be a Bluegrass Boy. Monroe had been a fantasy father, and it's too late to join his family.

A dull, slow-moving second novel.

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