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IN BRIEF

Fiction

November 26, 1995|MICHAEL HARRIS

TENORMAN by David Huddle (Chronicle Books: $12.95; 121 pp.). Eddie Carnes, an alcoholic 60-year-old jazz great down on his luck in Sweden, is rescued by a team from the National Endowment for the Arts led by a self-styled bureaucrat, Henry McKernan, and installed in the Washington, D.C., area with "the saxophone of his choice, the studio of his dreams and luxurious support for as long as he stayed clean." But the project has its shadow side. McKernan's team records every sound Carnes makes in order to study the "creative process." It also tapes Carnes' courtship of Thelma Watkins, a teacher he has met at an NEA-sponsored party. As McKernan and his wife, whose marriage is fraying, listen to the tapes, what he fears has become "some very subtle thievery or embezzlement we were practicing, with Carnes the victim," looks even worse. Huddle ("Intimates") riffs intriguingly on issues of communication and brings to this novella an ear for voices (Carnes' old-shoe African American dialect, Watkins' patent-leather version, McKernan's grant-application prose).

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