Knopf. Apr. 2024. 384p. ISBN 9780593535011. $29. F
Best-selling, Pulitzer Prize–winning Smiley (A Dangerous Business) has written many well-received works but her most recent novel falls flat. The life story of Jodie Rattler, the novel covers decades of the folk musician’s life, starting with her childhood in St. Louis. Her family’s passion for music fuels and supports Jodie’s own passion. Smiley embellishes Jodie’s story through references to trends in pop culture and to artists such as Judy Collins, which provides some frame of reference for Jodie’s successful-enough career. She earns a solid income, which her uncle invests wisely on her behalf. She is able to travel extensively across the United Stated and even abroad before returning to St. Louis. What’s not successful is a plodding narrative with little or no action and less-than-robust character development. Then along comes an epilogue with a twist involving a gawky girl whom Jodie occasionally encounters after beginning her career.
VERDICT The final twist and thus the novel fail in large part because the epilogue introduces an abrupt structural shift and an unsatisfying change in narrative voice for which readers are not well-prepared and which takes the book in a different direction.
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