Ivory Joe

Front Cover
AuthorHouse, 2000 - Fiction - 320 pages

Here is a love story that begins with the divorce: a riotous, colorful, nostalgic tale of an unusual girl's coming of age amid the swirling adult world of New York nightlife, with its Runyonesque mix of gamblers, showgirls, and zoot-suited mobsters.

Christie Klein isn't fazed by the wild parties thrown by Leo, her utterly lovable, charmingly irresponsible father, while her mother Tina spends yet another night in jail for illegally picketing Leo's Seventh Avenue dress factory. Christie and her sister, Ruthie, are accustomed to the liquor and the smoke, the raucous laughter and, always, the wonderful music.

For Christie, music means her mother's newest quest: stardom for Negro singer Ivory Joe in a world dominated by white singers and mob-controlled record companies. By necessity Ivory Joe is a boxer. But by calling he is a heart-busting singer and pianist who practices his craft nightly in dusty back rooms. With his group, the Classics, Ivory Joe is ushering in a strange, pulsating, erotic new music that would come to be known as rock 'n' roll.

Through it all, Christie tells us the tangled love story of her parents, who met in a 52nd Street nightclub when Leo came in to shake down Tina's date for an overdue gambling debt. Leo grew up in the Bronx along with other street kids who pushed garment racks on Seventh Avenue before going into loan-sharking for the Mafia. Tina grew up in a shabby Brooklyn walk-up, smart and tough enough to do anything: road-managing Ivory Joe and the Classics in the bitterly divided deep South, succeeding at photojournalism, organizing unions even keeping the affection of an irrepressible rake of an ex-husband.

Now, Christie and Ruthie who longingly compares her preadolescent womanhood to the voluptuous nudes on the back of Leo's gambling cards earnestly scheme to put their parents' rocky marriage back together. But the girls have plenty of growing up to do themselves before they can help the wildly incompatible Tina and Leo or cope with Ivory Joe's turbulent ascent to success.

In this warm, witty novel set in a more innocent time, 1950s' America, Martyn Burke establishes himself as a writer with a sure voice of his own. Burke's evocation goes far beyond nostalgia: He conjures up unforgettable characters and achingly real personalities who linger long after the last page has been turned.

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Ivory Joe

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Ivory Joe and the Classics are an up-and-coming rock 'n' roll band in 1950s New York. Through an accidental meeting, Christie and Ruthie's left-wing mother Tina becomes their manager. Although Tina is ... Read full review

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