(Reviewed by JD Jung)
“There are four people as similar as they are unique—one at the end of his career, one lost in the middle, one who dreams of beginning, and the fourth, a child, not knowing what is ahead of him. None of them know for sure what awaits them; they’re all discontent, all frightened for the future whether it be tomorrow, next year, or a decade away.”
Oliver Pleasant, a well-known eighty-five year old jazz pianist is playing his last five shows before retiring. He plans on leaving New York City and moving in with his niece in Memphis. He has many happy memories, but also some regrets. He misses his wife who died twenty two years ago, and is estranged from his children.
Frank Severs is a forty-one year old journalist who was laid off from a newspaper in Memphis. Upon hearing that Pleasant is to perform his last shows, he travels to New York to interview him. He wants to rekindle that spark, that passion that got him into writing in the first place. He seems to have lost it in all areas of his life, including his marriage.
A twenty-two year old pianist, Agnes Cassady, also originally from Memphis, came to New York by way of New Orleans. While she is there, she hopes to see one of her jazz idols, Oliver Pleasant. Agnes is suffering from an incurable neurological disorder and needs to make some decisions.
These three individuals from multiple generations come together in the riveting Five Night Stand. Though they endure life’s struggles in their own way, it’s the love of the music that keeps them going. We gradually learn how each got to where they are, and why they react the way they do. Even so, each character refuses to be a victim and takes control of their own lives. Though Oliver Pleasant is a fictional character, the stories he relates are all too real. He recounts to Frank his life on the road with Jim Crow laws, endless gigs, and infidelity.
It was the topic of jazz that prompted me to read this novel, but it was the characters and the story that kept me reading. Whether you are a jazz lover or not, you will find Five Night Stand a moving story of American cultural history and the human experience.