It is an odd fact that despite the pre-eminence of such early giants as Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey, one tends today to think of the blues as a largely male form of expression. J. S. Phillips' novel, "Mojo Hand: An Orphic Tale," first printed in 1966, is an often moving woman's blues lament in literary form. "Mojo Hand," Phillips' first and only novel, describes in breathtakingly poetic prose (echoed throughout by italicized blues lyrics) the misadventures of a runaway black girl of about 20 named Eunice Prideaux.
One day in the early '60s, Eunice leaves her stifling San Francisco world of cotillions and tea parties, and, with little more than a guitar, journeys to Raleigh, N.C., in search of the "marrow of what made blues." In particular, Eunice, a middle-class maenad, "has come to find her Orpheus" in the form of a blues guitarist and singer named Thomas Jefferson (Blacksnake) Brown, first heard on an old 78 r.p.m. record. Her escapades in various squalid Southern hotels and juke-joints reveal to her a primal, Orphic essence, "the source of herself, this music that moved her and the others, however much they tried to deny it." "Mojo Hand" concentrates on the growth and decay of Eunice's relations with her black Orpheus, Blacksnake, an affair that--given the Orphic parallels--ends with tragic predictability.