Going Back to T-Town: The Ernie Fields Territory Big Band by Boston journalist Carmen Fields is a memoir of her father, trombonist, pianist, music arranger and band leader of the Ernie Fields Big Band. The saga covers many of the swing bands and jazz groups that enlivened the American music scene in the middle of the 20th century. Fields (full disclosure: a longtime friend) captures life on the road for territory band members who went from town to town in the South during the Jim Crow era, drawn from stories shared by her father and memories he recorded. Drugs, alcohol and gambling were part of the scene, but the core of the narrative was music arranging, virtuoso performances, racial segregation thwarting access to hotel rooms and meals, and enthusiastic audiences of dance loving fans. You can check out the recordings on YouTube.
At one time, Ernie Fields’ band was rated among the top ten in the country, and his recordings are still available. The reader will meet many famous musical figures in Ernie Field’s orbit. It’s a daughter’s compilation of her father’s accomplishments and recollections, but I finished the book wanting to know more about what it was like to be the little girl of a charismatic figure who didn’t spend much time at home.
Just East of Nowhere by Scot Lehigh (also a friend) is a well written first novel by a Boston Globe columnist whose career has concentrated on politics and public policy. Set against the hardscrabble backdrop of Eastport, Maine, this debut novel is a coming-of-age story largely centered on three high school students struggling with their academic responsibilities and failures, social acceptance, hormone-fueled sexuality, and the potential bleakness of their future lives. The story line is animated by the search by one of the three, Dan Winter, to uncover the circumstances of his birth, his intense need to unravel the mystery of who his father is. Lehigh’s journalistic background enhances his narrative skill in capturing this journey of adolescent discovery, as well as pictorially establishing the physical beauty of small town Maine. The story moves along rapidly, and is a pleasant diversion from the political tensions with which Lehigh is preoccupied in his day job. Enjoyable summer read.
The Guest by Emma Cline is reportedly what everyone in the Hamptons is reading this summer, but this isn’t just another trashy (if pleasurable) beach read. The story line is deceptively simple: a 22-year-old rootless call girl named Alex hooks up with a wealthy businessman, Simon, to expand opportunities among the well-heeled people summering in the Hamptons. She is fleeing New York City and an ex to whom she owes a lot of money and from her roommates, whom she has failed to pay her share of the rent. She’s not above using the party scene to swipe uppers from hosts’ medicine chests, clean out their wallets or pocket an expensive piece of jewelry left lying around. Her adventures among the Hamptons’ wealthy are a rich source of satire, but Cline lays bare the terror of what it means to be living on the edge and the poignancy of surviving on the outside looking in, even if the inside isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Alex’s default position is using her body to get what she wants, while telling herself her turn-around to a normal life is just around the corner. She can be wily and outrageous while increasingly sinking into her own delusions. The novel’s conclusion is clever and thought-provoking.