Cover image for Saint monkey : a novel
Title:
Saint monkey : a novel
ISBN:
9780393080049
Edition:
First Edition.
Physical Description:
350 pages ; 25 cm
Geographic Term:
Summary:
"Fourteen-year-old Audrey Martin, with her Poindexter glasses and her head humming the 3/4 meter of gospel music, knows she'll never get out of Kentucky--but when her fingers touch the piano keys, the whole church trembles. Her best friend, Caroline, daydreams about Hollywood stardom, but both girls feel destined to languish in a slow-moving stopover town in Montgomery County. That is, until chance intervenes and a booking agent offers Audrey a ticket to join the booming jazz scene in Harlem--an offer she can't resist, not even for Caroline. And in New York City the music never stops. Audrey flirts with love and takes the stage at the Apollo, with its fast-dancing crowds and blinding lights. But fortunes can turn fast in the city--young talent means tough competition, and for Audrey failure is always one step away. Meanwhile, Caroline sinks into the quiet anguish of a Black woman in a backwards country, where her ambitions and desires only slip further out of reach" --
Holds:

Available:*

Library
Material Type
Call Number
Item Available
Copies
Status
Searching...
Book FICTION TOW 1 1
Searching...
Searching...
Book FICTION TOW 1 1
Searching...
Searching...
Book FICTION TOW 1 1
Searching...

On Order

Summary

Summary

A stunning debut novel of two girls raised in hardship, separated by fortune, and reunited through tragedy.

Fourteen-year-old Audrey Martin, with her Poindexter glasses and her head humming the 3/4 meter of gospel music, knows she'll never get out of Kentucky--but when her fingers touch the piano keys, the whole church trembles. Her best friend, Caroline, daydreams about Hollywood stardom, but both girls feel destined to languish in a slow-moving stopover town in Montgomery County.

That is, until chance intervenes and a booking agent offers Audrey a ticket to join the booming jazz scene in Harlem--an offer she can't resist, not even for Caroline. And in New York City the music never stops. Audrey flirts with love and takes the stage at the Apollo, with its fast-dancing crowds and blinding lights. But fortunes can turn fast in the city--young talent means tough competition, and for Audrey failure is always one step away. Meanwhile, Caroline sinks into the quiet anguish of a Black woman in a backwards country, where her ambitions and desires only slip further out of reach.

Jacinda Townsend's remarkable first novel is a coming-of-age story made at once gripping and poignant by the wild energy of the Jazz Era and the stark realities of segregation. Marrying musical prose with lyric vernacular, Saint Monkey delivers a stirring portrait of American storytelling and marks the appearance of an auspicious new voice in literary fiction.


Author Notes

Jacinda Townsend studied at Harvard University and Duke University Law School before receiving her MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She lives in Bloomington, Indiana, and teaches creative writing at Indiana University. Saint Monkey is her first novel.


Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

Townsend's debut novel chronicles the lives of two black girls growing up in the dusty Appalachian mountains of Kentucky in the era of segregation. As children, Audrey and Caroline are bound together by their unpopularity, and their friendship quickly deepens, as they buffer each other against the cruelties that their small world hurls at them. They share adolescent angst and their wild dreams for the future, but when Caroline's father brutally murders her mother, Audrey and Caroline's friendship is changed in ways neither girl fully understands. They grow apart during high school, colliding occasionally, but Caroline is busy with boys and Audrey recedes into a quiet life of reading and playing piano for her grandfather, later finding work as a jazz musician in Harlem. The freedom and energy of Harlem sing through Audrey as she trades her country sandals for stilettos and spends her evenings listening to legends like Thelonious Monk and Ethel Waters. Back home, Caroline struggles to take care of her ailing grandmother and bring some money into the house. There are some clumsy moments in the prose, but Townsend captures both the girls' relationship and the desperation of the small, black community in Appalachia. (Feb) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Kirkus Review

The friendship between two black teenage girls in Kentucky flags when one of them moves to Harlem in this low-energy first novel. In the 1950s, the small town of Mt. Sterling is strictly segregated. Audrey and Caroline are neighbors in the "colored" section. Audrey is only 11 when her beloved father, Lindell, enlists in the Air Force and dies his very first day in Korea (friendly fire). The shock drives her mother to drink; she works two jobs and is seldom home. Caroline's situation is far worse. For starters, she's plug ugly, inheriting unwelcome features from the white man who raped her grandmother. The horror comes when her mother disappears; she has been murdered and dismembered by her husband, known as Sonnyboy. He confesses but never explains why he killed his meek, faithful wife; Townsend's awkward handling of the episode is a tear in the fabric. Caroline refuses to speak to her father again (incredibly, he only does five years jail time) but moves right along: "Ain't like some big thing happened." She's first to snag a boyfriend, putting distance between the two friends. Audrey's ace in the hole is her skill as a pianist. Mr. Glaser, a talent scout from the world-famous Apollo, hears her playing at a funeral and insists she come to New York. This is Audrey's big moment--joining the Apollo house band at 17 and living in Harlem--but Townsend can't make it shine, even when the bassist, August, 11 years her senior, falls for her big time. There will be rough sledding ahead for the lovebirds and for the two childhood friends; it's Sonnyboy that has the smooth ride. Townsend has attempted a big-canvas novel, but it's only in the close-knit Mt. Sterling neighborhood that she seems at home.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Booklist Review

*Starred Review* Caroline and Audrey, best friends and competitors, live across the street from each other in the African American section of little Mt. Sterling, Kentucky, during the fiercely segregated 1950s. Caroline, called Pookie, dreams of Hollywood. Audrey, called Poindexter because of her thick glasses, is a musical prodigy. Both endure crushing family tragedies. A chance encounter sparks Audrey's bold escape to Harlem, where, a penny-poor country gal in a thin cotton dress, she secures a gig with the house band in the famed Apollo Theater and finds love. While Audrey acclimates to speedy, sophisticated New York and the cut-throat music world, Caroline endures a scraping-by rural life, caring for her ailing grandmother and younger sister. The women take turns narrating, and stellar first novelist Townsend renders their opposite lives with stunningly sensuous and revelatory detail. Her characters' struggles form one long dance of need and denial, jealousy and longing that embodies the anguish of women's lives compounded by brutal racial prejudice. As Townsend intimately and indelibly illuminates the psychological traumas of the times, she asks profoundly personal questions about staying and going, sacrifice and ambition. This is a breathtakingly insightful, suspenseful, and gorgeously realized novel of cruelty and sorrow, anger and forgiveness, improvisation and survival, and the transcendent beauty of nature and art.--Seaman, Donna Copyright 2010 Booklist


New York Review of Books Review

WHAT TO DO with the teenage girl as subject? She has been much maligned in the pages of our literature - Shirley Jackson's homicidal Merricat in "We Have Always Lived in the Castle," or Jeffrey Eugenides's suiciding sisters. Even in less lethal incarnations, young girls in novels take advantage or are taken advantage of. The question of innocence is central - there is always virginity, literal and metaphorical, to be considered - and virtue is prized above all else. Though it seems nearly impossible to escape some version of these conventions, Jacinda Townsend's compelling debut, "Saint Monkey," sees its adolescent central characters through the broader lens of their friendship and the limitations of gender, race and age that inform the choices the girls make. Set in Mount Sterling, Ky., in the 1950s, the novel alternates in eight parts between the first-person perspectives of Audrey Martin and Caroline (Pookie) Wallace. The girls are 14 when the novel opens - Audrey bookish and introverted, Caroline flamboyant, dreaming of glamour and an anywhere-but-here future. Mount Sterling isn't so bad, Jim Crow aside. (Of course, Jim Crow wasn't an aside. On the contrary, it was as much a condition of existence as the weather, and if those living under it hadn't succeeded in constructing lives and selves, they wouldn't have survived. That Townsend knows this and handles issues of race with such subtlety is a testament to her abilities.) The "colored" section of Mount Sterling is small enough that girls of different classes - Caroline's family is of more modest means and manners than Audrey's - are neighbors. The girls are united, in part, by their undesirability, which lands them in the subbasement of the social hierarchy, though, at least temporarily, their virtue is unassailed. Audrey is plain and wears "Poindexter glasses." Bucktoothed Caroline, though possessed of a head of thick wavy red hair - quite a commodity - is "center-of-the-bone ugly." Both are orphaned in a sense: After Audrey's father dies she is left with her sweet but ineffectual grandfather and a taciturn mother with a drinking problem. Caroline - well, let's just say she loses both parents in one horrible fell swoop. By the time they are 16, thanks to a series of somewhat suspect narrative conveniences, Audrey has moved to Harlem to become the house band pianist at the Apollo Theater. Caroline and her big dreams are stuck in Kentucky where her life devolves into drudgery as she struggles with too little money, too few prospects and the responsibility of caring for her younger sister and ailing grandmother. The sections narrated from Caroline's perspective are weakened by one of the novel's central problems, one that is particularly notable in the first third: a folksy, colorful language that is more stylistic convention than accurate descriptor of these particular characters and their experience of the world. The language is a kind of syntactic leitmotif associated with writing about the black Southern past, one present in many novels that take the South as subject. To make a play on the title of NoViolet Bulawayo's recent novel - we need new language. Nonetheless, Caroline is a strong and nuanced character. Despite her pragmatism and hard edges, she is a romantic soul. She is barely 15 when love first presents itself as a psychic way out of the difficulty of her circumstance. Caroline's yearning recalls Janie, the young heroine of "Their Eyes Were Watching God," lying one afternoon under a blossoming pear tree, overwhelmed by sensuality and possibility and driven toward the fulfillment of what she senses life might offer. That Janie's life does not go as well as she hopes, that it does in fact take a tragic turn, does not eclipse her capacity for joy or hope. Caroline does not fare so well. She is bludgeoned by a stream of unrelenting disappointment, but Townsend rescues her from becoming a cliché of black suffering with lines like these: "I find a sworp of junebug beetles crawling on the porch post, and I notice how they're all so pretty with their gold-green backs shining in the sun, and I crush them and crush them with the heel of my shoe...all them souls, just gone." Audrey, on the other hand, has a new life up North - rent parties, the Village Vanguard till dawn - which she describes in vivid detail in a series of letters to Caroline. Townsend manages the complexities of the girls' deteriorating friendship quite well: Audrey's well-intentioned but patronizing letters, Caroline's jealousy and pride, Audrey's guilt. The sections set in Harlem snap with vigor, Townsend's writing full of fresh turns of phrase and keen insights. A cast of well-drawn secondary characters comes on the scene: sharp-tongued Letty, dancer and stage manager at the Apollo, Audrey's love interest August, and Harlem itself, which she loves and hates. "The rest of the world knows there is a New York," she thinks, "but for New Yorkers, there is no other place: New York, as it turns out, is the most provincial place on earth." As a character, Audrey is a bit inaccessible - we are aware of her joy and her suffering but don't often feel them with her. This short-coming aside, she is a delightful counter-point to Caroline. "Saint Monkey" is certainly a coming-of-age novel - its teenage heroines eat the damning apple and fall from innocence. But it is agency that matters most for Caroline and Audrey. In Townsend's hands, virtue and innocence were only a veil that needed to fall away so the girls might see themselves, and their chosen course, more clearly. AYANA MATHIS is the author of a novel, "The Twelve Tribes of Hattie."


Library Journal Review

This remarkable debut immerses the reader in the lives of two African American teenagers growing up in small-town Kentucky in the late 1950s. Caroline and Audrey inhabit a borderland between the emancipated North and the segregated South at a time when the repressive Fifties are giving way to the more liberated Sixties. The two friends are tied together by loss: Audrey longingly remembers her father, an airman killed in the Korean War, and Caroline's mother is horrifically murdered. Caroline straddles the boundary between beautiful and homely and dreams of going to Hollywood, but it's Audrey, who inherited her father's musical talent and can play jazz piano by ear, who manages to escape to New York City. Discovered at 18 while performing at a funeral, she travels to Harlem, where she plays for a time in the Apollo Theater's house band. But both girls find it difficult to overcome racism and the family ties binding them to their hometown. VERDICT Townsend's descriptive prose, dense with imagery, portrays life in the Jim Crow South and Harlem's heyday with startling immediacy. This author is one to watch.-Reba Leiding, formerly with James Madison Univ. Lib., Harrisonburg, VA (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.