WILD WOMEN AND THE BLUES is a stunning debut that weaves together two stories divided by one hundred years. Part mystery, part love story, part historical fiction, it’s an unforgettable tale of passion, courage, survival, redemption, and strong women. And since Al Capone’s henchmen make a few appearances, there’s a murder. Or two.
In 2015, we meet Sawyer, a film student struggling to save his thesis amidst crippling grief. When he discovers a box of memorabilia in his semi-estranged grandmother’s attic, he thinks he’s found a lost movie from the famous Black film-maker: Oscar Micheaux. Old photos of Micheaux with Louis Armstrong and various chorus girls support this idea.
On the back of one of the photos, some of the girls are named, including Honoree Dalcour. Still alive at 110, she’s in a Chicago assisted living facility, funded by Sawyer’s grandmother. With no idea of how the two women are connected, he flies across the country eager to interview Honoree, convinced she holds the key to completing his thesis.
Nothing goes as expected. Honoree is feisty and opinionated. Before talking about the past, she demands personal information Sawyer doesn’t want to divulge, and then the fun really begins, because we meet Honoree in 1925. And Ms. Bryce’s rich, evocative writing brings the world of speakeasies, gansters, and jazz to life.
I loved experiencing Chicago’s Black Renaissance through the opportunities—and danger—it afforded Honoree, an ambitious sharecropper’s daughter with a talent for fashion design and the determination to become a famous dancer.
In the present, with her health declining, she and Sawyer become friends. They reveal each other’s stories, and eventually he discovers a family secret with the power to bring them both peace.
I tore through this one, despite stopping to re-read every beautifully-crafted sentence. And I can still hear the music and visualize the beaded dresses with plunging necklines. Fantastic.