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  • Stephen Altman

Trouble in a Blue Dress

Today, my first review!

It helps to have a friend you've known forever and who happens to read everything, who teaches literature courses at the Johns Hopkins/Osher Program, and with whom you've been sharing bits of Blues for the Muse since you started composing the damn thing back in 2013. That would be George Clack, old friend and colleague, former blogging partner and--it'll be obvious in a moment--discerning reader.

George finished BFTM and posted the first review on Amazon. First reviews online are like the breath of life for a new book (yes, that was a hint to my other readers). Here's George's review:

In the Age of Woke, it’s rare to find any works of what I like to call Old Guy Fiction getting published, let alone one that takes the form of a novel in 202 sonnets. But Blues for the Muse is a rare throwback, a story that will appeal to those of us whose cultural heroes are Frank Sinatra, Philip Roth, Elmore Leonard, Billy Wilder, and, not least, the poet John Keats. The plot begins in the cemetery in Rome where Keats is buried as our hero Tom Jerome encounters a mysterious woman in an azure dress. Jerome, a movie producer of a certain age, is a self-ironic fellow with a romantic streak, an eye for potential movie stars, and a mordant awareness of his own advancing years. Naturally, he’s a sucker for an Italian beauty who could be played by a young Sophia Loren, Claudia Cardinale, or Monica Vitti.

Viña, this femme fatale, happens to be a mobster’s wife who mistakes Jerome for a hit man sent by her jealous mob boss. She flees from Jerome on stiletto heels at first, but when she discovers he’s no gunsel but a moviemaker with a knack for banter and negotiating, she offers to star in his next film. Thus the hook is set.

To see if this is your kind of thing, try this bit from that first meeting:

He had a cemetery temperament, The melancholy muse inside his head That made of every moment some huge event In this, The Life of Tom Jerome. He had no dread Of anything but ordinariness. And then he saw the woman in the azure dress. Much of my reading pleasure in this book comes from witty rhymes like these snapping into place, just as they do in Lord Byron’s Don Juan or, to cite a more contemporary work, The Golden Gate by Vikram Seth. Such poetry is a rich feast, requiring concentration on the reader’s part and an ear for the English language. For old school English majors and denizens of Turner Classic Movies like me, Blues for the Muse is best savored in the form of a few sonnets each night before bedtime. It may even stimulate the growth of a few neurons.

So does the old guy get the girl? Well, you could say yes and no, but you’ll have to read BFTM to know what I mean.

Full Disclosure: I once blogged with Steve Altman at 317am.


[The photo, from back in the day, is of Virna Lisi, Italian movie star, ca. 1960. Couldn't find an azure dress, but the hat's very nice, don't you think?]

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