Jonah Man is the story of an old performer on the road, barely hanging on to his career by taking and selling drugs, forced to share the stage with a talented young star in the grip of an abusive, ambitious father. The drugs get out of hand, the father is murdered, the kid takes off for New York and the cops ride in to sort it all out. So what's new and fresh about this? Well, in Christopher Narozny's first novel, the story takes place in the itinerant vaudeville world of the early 20th century, told with the grit and stage vernacular of that hard life behind the velvet curtain.
The old performer is Swain, a one-handed juggler who knows that bouncing rubber balls off his traveling collection of prosthetic hooks is "a good act, but it's not a finale." To make ends meet and numb disappointment, he deals vials of unnamed potent elixirs along the circuit while skimming a taste from each for himself. Swain's self-aware voice opens the novel, setting the scene for subsequent chapters narrated by the remaining characters, as Narozny describes the fleeting thrill of live entertainment where "nobody knows why you do what you do, no more than they know why they watch... there is only the mesmeric whirl." When that thrill becomes drudgery, the actors move from accolades to anonymity. The richly imagined Jonah Man, a hard-luck story of a career on the skids, is part mystery and part tragedy--a story that might play out in any era. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.