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Blues Lessons: A Novel

Blues Lessons: A Novel - Robert Hellenga Growing up in small town Michigan, Martin Dijksterhuis thought he knew everything about what he was going to do with life - run the family business, apple orchards, for his father. His mom had other plans for him - to attend the University of Chicago, her alma mater, and really make something of himself; something that she felt she never did, despite all the opportunities given to her. Everything changed his junior year though when he fell in love. His first love was Corinna Williams, the "Negro" daughter of his father's foreman. His second love, the blues music played by the migrant workers who followed the apples north from Georgia every year.

With the money he had saved up for college, he bought himself a guitar - not just a guitar though, the guitar, the one that first weaved the blues into his heartstrings. It was an ugly thing, but it was good enough for him and the blues. He tried to take Corinna to homecoming, but even his liberal mother was dead-set against it. So instead of joining their classmates, they climbed the water tower and then made love. Martin, had no idea what kind of changes this single moment would set into action. A few months later, Cory was gone, as was Martin's faith in his parents and the world. What follows, is his journey as he followed the call of the blues, tried to find happiness, and at last acceptance for what was, is, and will be.

This is my second Hellenga novel, and while it didn't grab me in the same way Philosophy Made Simple did, it was a well-rendered novel. Set against the backdrop of an explosive time in American history, Hellenga managed to tell a nice story about finding one's self and learning to accept life despite choices that are made, whether good or bad. Perhaps it's because my experiences are so different than those described in the novel, but I just wasn't drawn into the story and the characters lives as much I would have liked. This is not the fault of the author though. For me personally, despite having grown up in a town even smaller than Appleton, I couldn't relate to the characters experiences. I believe it to be more due to the nature of the time period in which the novel was set. I'm not sure that anyone who didn't grown up with the backdrop of the Civil Rights movement can truly get what it was about - nor could an author easily make it come alive. That said, I would still recommend this novel, especially to people who grew up in that tumultuous era.