Oh My Stars by Lorna Landvik
About fifteen years before there was Elvis, there was Kjel (pronounced shell) Hedstrom. Violet Mathers had been an abused, homely child who later lost an arm in an accident. She is traveling to San Francisco to be the second person to jump off the Golden Gate bridge to kill herself. But a bus accident in North Dakota derails her plans. Although no one is seriously hurt, the bus riders need to stay in Pearl, North Dakota for the night. Violet stays with the Hedstroms. There she meets the blond Nordic god, Kjel, and his good friend and fellow musician, black Austin Sykes.
Austin and Kjel are leaving for Chicago to get Austin’s brother, Dallas, and start a band. Violet joins them at Kjel’s insistence. Since she has fallen head over heels in love with Kjel, this is no hardship for her. But things are easy for the trio. Violet’s self esteem couldn’t be any lower. Austin stays in the back of the pick up while they are traveling because it wouldn’t look right for a black man to sit by a white woman in the 1930’s even as far north as they are. Easy going Kjel is having trouble keeping up everyone’s spirits.
In Chicago they add Dallas to their group, another black man. Then they stumble into a county fair that needs a band. Suddenly Violet is the manager of a racially mixed singing group named the Pearltones. The Pearltones are an immediate hit. From the fair they go on to a night club one night gig that extends into three nights. The Pearltones begin their rise to fame and glory. Violet ignores her true self to become the self assured manager when needed. It isn’t easy, though, when the men go off after each show with some woman or another.
The story lines in Oh My Stars are penetrating and serious – racism, especially as the band travels further south, disability with Violet’s amputated arm, child abuse, and drunkeness that endangers them all. Yet Violet is telling this story from a future perspective (although the story is mainly in third person) with a light voice and touch. The hardships are not ignored. But in knowing the outcome, the tale keeps a positive aura, even when things are at their worst.
Once again Lorna Landvik looks at people from “normal” surroundings and brings them to life. She uses a deft touch to write about nasty subjects, giving the book a hopeful tone throughout. It is easy to empathize with Violet’s pain and self loathing. The racial bigotry is a constant, yet ignored as much as possible, especially by Kjel who thinks racism is stupid anyway. The Pearltones are a buoyant group that excels at what they do – an early rock and roll. If only everyone viewed life as Kjel did…
This is an enjoyable book that I recommend.