Review of ‘Nine Bar Blues’

By Ryan C. Bradley

Nine Bar Blues
Nine Bar Blues by Sheree Renée Thomas
Third Man Books
Image Credit: Edelweiss

The stories collected in Nine Bar Blues weave emotion, spirit, and music, captivating readers with newfound alchemy and the murmurs of dark gods. Rooted in rhythm & threaded with magic, these tales encompass worlds that begin in river bottoms, pass through spectral gates, and end in distant, uncharted worlds. These stories describe the pain that often accompanies the confines of the sanctuary and the joy that is inextricably bound to the troubles of hard living. Nine Bar Blues sings a multiverse of fully realized worlds that readers will remember for ages to come and cherish from page to heart-thumping, foot-stomping page.

Published by Third Man Books Nine Bar Blues by Sheree Renée Thomas is a spellbinding collection of short stories that takes readers on a journey through haunted fields that bloom with laughter and music and ends in the readers’ own heart.

There are two novellas near the end of Sheree Renée Thomas’s Nine Bar Blues. The first, “Shanequa’s Blues—or Another Shotgun Lullaby,” has all of the good elements of the collection. In it, Mopti travels from Senegal to the Mississippi Delta to investigate the mysterious circumstances around his Uncle Oumar’s death. With the help of Brenda, the titular Shanequa’s mother, he hunts for the record that his Uncle obsessed over The Great Going Song. There is an immediacy to the novella and the stories in this collection that follow a similar track. The characters have a specific goal that drives the story forward.

The other novella, “Madame and the Map: A Journey in Five Movements,” has all the bad elements of the collection. Thomas gets bogged down in world-building, taking time to introduce multiple sets of characters and explain the rules of a magic book that transports them through time while nothing happens. The opening is tedious. The magic robs the characters of agency, making them passive and uninteresting. This happens in several other stories throughout the collection, which feel more like vignettes rather than fully realized stories.

Whether the stories are the former or the latter, Thomas fills them with fantastic descriptions. Often, Thomas repurposes familiar images to make them new, like “Memory poured down on him like hard rain.”

Along with those beautiful descriptions, Nine Bar Blues shows off Thomas’s impressive ear, fitting for a book drawing on the blues. Great moments of insight pepper her dialogue—” ‘We aren’t in a war. Well,’ Marva said, giving Nelse an exaggerated side-eye, ‘Those foreign ones don’t count if nothing’s happened here‘”—and colorful colloquialisms— “If you don’t sleep more, you’ll stunt your growth and only have one titty.”

The stories in Nine Bar Blues cover a range of genres: horror, magical realism, science fiction, and literary. Whether they have forward momentum or not, Thomas’s prose is reason enough to read. (★★★☆☆)

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Product Details:

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

Page count: 204pp

Age Range: 16 & Over

ISBN: 978-0-9974-5789-6

Publisher: Third Man Books

List Price: $16.95

     
 

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