Katharine “Kay” Swift was a young woman – a socialite – married to a wealthy banker but frustrated because she wished to be taken seriously as a concert pianist. In one night her life will change when she attends a concert and hears a stirring new piece. She is determined to meet the brash young composer … George Gershwin.
That meeting would lead to a ten-year affair, ending only with Gershwin’s death. Throughout that time, Kay struggled to gain recognition for her own work, struggled with her conflicting emotions for her husband and her lover, and struggled knowing that Gershwin would never be able to commit to a relationship because he was too busy being adored by the rest of the country.
I’ve lately found that I can really enjoy a well-written historical fiction novel and when I saw the subject … Gershwin, Swift, and the music of the jazz age … I knew I had to read this. Unfortunately, author Mitchel James Kaplan delivers an un-inspiring story.
This is Kay’s story (not Gershwin’s), which is a great idea. There’s so much potential conflict … competing for musical attention while admiring Gershwin for his talent; dual romantic life; etc … that this could be a wild thrill ride, a powerful romantic story, in addition to all the historical data. But it’s all swept away with a slow, over-written story. For example:
Returning to George’s apartment after a third meeting with the Theatre Guild, they found the playwright Guy Bolton waiting outside. He had written the books for several successful musicals, including a few of George’s. Although Guy’s parents were American, he had been raised in England and he exhibited his European patina like his gold-and-ruby tiepin, to establish his posh bona fides. At the same time, he offered a wink to those who detected his posturing, as if to imply you and I know it’s silly, don’t we, old chap. The whole culture game, just a socially acceptable way to snuffle each other’s behinds like bloodhounds confirming hierarchy.
Dapper in his linen jacket with shoulder pads, his sky-blue shirt with a maroon and yellow club tie, and high-waisted, pleated, tapered pants, Guy kissed Kay’s hand.
The backfill of information, the detailed description of this man’s clothes (this man who we only meet briefly) just slows down the story. Was it important to know the background of Guy Bolton? Or was this just some research the author wanted to share.
At one point Kay has a discussion after seeing Al Jolson in his blackface makeup:
“Blackface,” said Zilboorg, nodding. “Is it wrong, do you believe it is wrong, for a person to borrow a mask, an identity, that is not his or her birthright?”
“I don’t know,” reflected Kay. “Cultures borrow. Cultures enrich each other. But it can lead to misunderstandings. Hurt feelings. I guess one has to be cautious.”
This is a very modern sentiment. I struggle to think Kay Swift would think this way. Is there documentation that she felt this way, or is this the author imbuing modern mores onto someone who lived and likely felt very differently one hundred years ago?
I could go on with some of the things that bothered me (I have eight highlights in my Kindle edition) but ultimately I simply wasn’t entertained the way a work of fiction should work.
Looking for a good book? Rhapsody by Mitchel James Kaplan is a historical fiction novel of Kay Swift – a composer and the lover of George Gershwin. The historical aspects are fine, but the story as presented is not engaging.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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author: Mitchell James Kaplan
publisher: Gallery Books
hardcover, 352 pages