Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Book Review: "Five Night Stand" by Richard J. Alley

Full disclosure: I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review.

Oliver Pleasant is a renowned jazz pianist who has been playing music since the 1930s. He has played with all of the greats, traveled the world, and made a bit of a name for himself among those in the know. Now in his 80s, he is ready to retire, so he plans to play five farewell shows at a New York City club before leaving his home in New York and moving to Memphis. He hopes that his estranged children will attend one of his shows.

"Oliver sees himself as a carpenter, a craftsman putting notes and melodies together, fitting them when they will, stepping back to rest and reconsider when they won't."

Frank Severs is a newspaper reporter from Memphis, recently laid off from his longtime job, and trying to figure out what is next, both career-wise and in his relationship with his wife. He decides to write a story about Oliver's retirement and pitch it to a number of different publications, so against his wife's wishes, Frank goes to New York to see Oliver play, and hopefully get the opportunity to interview him.

Agnes Cassady is a tremendously talented musician in her own right, stricken by a progressively degenerative disease which is slowly robbing her of her ability to play the piano, and she expects it will cut short her life as well. In New York for one final round of tests to see if anything can be done, she's debating whether she should take control of her death as the disease is taking control of her life. But she cannot resist the opportunity to hear Oliver play for one of the last times in his career.

In Richard J. Alley's fantastic Five Night Stand, Oliver, Frank, and Agnes' lives intersect, each leaving an indelible impact on the others. This is a story about the heydays of jazz and a young man discovering his talent and the fire to make music. It's also the story of life's triumphs and regrets, the secrets we keep and the hurts we nurse, the hopes we cherish and the hearts we gravitate toward. Above all, it's the story of connection, and how the act of telling one's story can change your life.

While the book took a little time to gain steam, Alley is a fantastic writer, and his use of language is so poetic, it's almost musical in its own right. These characters are complex, not always completely likeable, but utterly fascinating and compelling. Five Night Stand is an emotional, enjoyable book, about life, love, and music, one that will make you want to listen to jazz and follow your passions. I'm so glad I found this one.

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