Blackbird Blues is a novel of illegal abortion and child abandonment in the 1963 Chicago world of civil rights and interracial jazz. Voices of two women tell their stories: Mary Kaye O’Donnell, an eighteen-year-old Irish-American aspiring jazz singer struggling with an unwanted pregnancy, and the 1940s diary entries of Sister Michaeline, Mary Kaye’s jazz mentor and guide through the bedlam of Mary Kaye’s childhood.
At Sister’s wake after a car crash, Mary Kaye meets Lucius Claremont, a sixty-year-old black bass player who had been Sister’s lover and father of their estranged son Benny before Sister left them for the convent. Lucius gives Mary Kaye Sister’s diary, saying it was Sister’s wish.
Mary Kaye had been reading James Baldwin and following the civil rights movement, but Lucius is the first black person she comes to really know. They bond over their loss, the diary, and visits to Benny in prison, where Sister started a ministry without telling him she was his mother.
Having killed a boxing opponent in his youth, Lucius disapproves of abortion, which at any rate is illegal in 1963. But he is supportive when Mary Kaye weighs her options, feeling that she is not yet equipped to raise a child.
With Mary Kaye’s involvement Lucius and Benny develop a genuine relationship. Benny confides that he had confronted Sister Michaeline with his hunch that she was his mother, so that when she drove off in a tizzy he blamed himself for her death. “I have to find a way to live with feeling that her death was my fault,” says Benny. Mary Kaye ponders, “What do we owe our children? What do we owe ourselves?”
Excerpts from Reviews
(For complete reviews click on the link at the end of each excerpt.)
I seldom cry when reading, but this book moved me so much that I did, especially when Carney pondered the question about not only what we owe ourselves, but also what we owe our children. The reading experience will stay with me for a long time. Highly recommended. Helen Piper, Historical Novel Society
Carney, a former award-winning reporter, editorial writer, and psychologist, offers a nuanced and powerful exploration of women’s choices around pregnancy and motherhood in the decades before Roe v. Wade. Ellen Meeropol, Mom Egg Review, Literature & Art
This is remarkable historical fiction that is poignant and mind-blowing in intensity. Viviane Crystal, Crystal Book Reviews
Blackbird Blues is an intricately written book about the development of two women who grew up in an age when options for women were sometimes limited. Sha, Amazon.com
Carney’s outrage at the injustices sustained by African-American and poor communities is palpable, and in our current climate of white privilege she lifts the curtain on how insidiously black lives are affected by the contrasting opportunities afforded to minority and white groups. Amazon Customer, Amazon.com
A deftly crafted and inherently interesting read from first page to last, "Blackbird Blues" nicely showcases author Jean K. Carney's genuine, distinctive, and reader engaging narrative storytelling style. MidwestBookReview.com
Filled with vivid details and well developed characters, the book is thought provoking, insightful and evokes bygone eras with specificity and grace. Definitely worth your time! Suzy Krick, Amazon.com
The story begins in a compelling way: in a church basement, as Mary Kaye tries to explain her situation to Tony, the panicked father of her baby. The mood and mores of the era come alive thanks to the scene’s backdrop of popular songs and Tony’s initial reaction. Susan Waggoner, Foreword Reviews
"Shaping story and character with Jean K. Carney." An interview with M.K. Tod, A Writer of History