Mother Blues

What if your childhood harbored a dire warning about your future? What if your life and the lives of dozens of others, including your future child, depended on you deciphering that warning before it is too late?

Mother Blues is about the maternal relationships we never knew existed, the evil we never expect, and the redemption we never think possible. Subversively feminist and environmental, this is a novel about mothers: those we have loved and lost, those we have never known, and those who have always been there for us whether we have realized it or not. And while this is not a novel about blues music, the blues is everywhere in this story, both grounding it in history and pushing it forward in a slow, rhythmic ache.

As Hurricane Harvey submerges Houston, Davis Payne escapes to the small desert town of Corbin, Texas. He is escaping much more than a 100-year flood. He is escaping a life of guilt and a childhood haunted by death. When Davis was ten, his mother drowned saving him from a boating accident. Years later, his first love burned to death before he could reach her. Davis has no idea of any supernatural connection between these tragedies. He knows only that if he does not leave Houston and stop drinking, he will not live to see his late thirties.

But, of course, there is no starting over; there is only another step deeper into reckoning. Davis soon finds his life inextricably tangled with the lives of others fighting to keep their own heads above water. For Corbin, Texas is not the quiet refuge Davis expects. Beneath its dry, dusty surface Davis finds a town rife with terrible secrets, restless legacies of love and heartbreak, and life-and-death dramas that rival his own.

Olivia DeLuna, for instance, is a beautifully bi-racial loner with a tragic past that she keeps rigorously to herself. Working a collection of low-paying jobs, Olivia lives in a brothel masquerading as a pecan farm called Libby’s Nuts. Its proprietor, Libby Holder, is a colorful, hysterically irreverent madam known after dark as Liberty Cherish, a woman rumored throughout Corbin to have long ago murdered her husband and fed his privates to the coyotes. Parentless from childhood, Olivia’s only goal in life is to own a blues club known in its heyday as Mother Blues.

There are others in Corbin whose stories Davis must make his own: a haunted, childless schoolteacher risking incarceration for murder in order to save a troubled student she is determined to adopt; a former Louisiana prostitute who, having heroically raised and died for her adopted Asian daughter, is ultimately avenged when the girl marries her mother’s killer and exploits the opportunity; and a world-renowned blues diva who unwittingly trades her only daughter for commercial success and who, until her final days, spends the rest of her life desperate for a chance to atone.

Filling the background of these various dramas, is the rapidly unfolding drama of Corbin: a tiny town teetering on the precipice of momentous change. A plan is afoot to transform Corbin with a commercial river walk fed from an engineered diversion of the Pecos River. Except for environmentalists fighting to preserve the habitat of a tiny minnow species, most of Texas is rabidly in favor of the project. Unfortunately, no one realizes that the Corbin River Walk is but a well-conceived, brilliantly executed and violently defended fraud perpetrated by the Russian mob.

If there is one maternal presence that binds together the characters of this novel, living and dead, it is the blues itself. Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Etta James, Big Mama Thornton, Mahalia Jackson, and all the timeless mothers to that quintessentially American genre are here, a soulful Greek chorus singing from the shadows, warning and imploring, offering hope, and bearing witness to lives adrift and in danger of capsizing.

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