Joplin’s Ghost

May 28, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

joplinJoplin’s Ghost by Tananarive Due


I’ve enjoyed Due’s novels so far, but I wasn’t expecting to read Joplin’s Ghost so soon. I’ve been working my way through her African Immortals series, but when I started the fourth book, it felt like the characters in the beginning were supposed to be familiar, even though I hadn’t met them before. Then, near the end of the prologue, there was a mention of Scott Joplin, and I realized that Due was pulling two of her stories together for this book. Since I like reading these things in order, I figured I needed to set My Soul to Take aside and read Joplin’s Ghost to get caught up.

The story is about Phoenix Smalls, a singer who’s on the brink of superstardom when she starts having visions of Scott Joplin, the early 20th Century ragtime composer. It’s no spoiler to note that she’s being haunted by Joplin’s ghost, but how Due handles the haunting is pretty brilliant. The story shifts back and forth from modern times to Joplin’s day, telling both their stories. There’s a parallel between their lives that drives the haunting, but Due makes that parallel thematic as she examines how creators balance their desire to make art with their need to make money.

I prefer Joplin’s story to Phoenix’s, namely because Due includes a gangsta rap subplot in the modern day that doesn’t do much for me. The story does better when it focuses on the two of them, and while the subplot plays an important role in Phoenix’s story, it feels a little cliched and stereotypical. Due has shown over multiple novels that she eschews cliches and stereotypes, so it felt strange seeing them in this book.

I’ve enjoyed Due’s African Immortals series, but I really enjoyed Joplin’s Ghost. She notes in her afterword that she did a lot of research into Joplin’s life, and it shows. She realizes his character well, as well as Phoenix’s, and as their stories intertwine, she story shines its brightest.

Started: March 30, 2018
Finished: April 12, 2018

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