I finally finished reading the really long book with a really long title: No Matter How Much You Promise to Cook or Pay the Rent You Blew It Cauze Bill Bailey Ain't Never Coming Home Again, by Edgardo Vega Yunque. The book centers around the adventures of a young New Yorker, Vidamia Farrell, half Puerto Rican and half Irish-American, and the story begins when she decides to search for her birth father. She locates Bill Farrell and learns that he was a jazz prodigy who stopped playing piano after he lost two fingers in Vietnam, and is delighted to meet the tribe of vivacious, blonde, musical half-siblings. Although Vidamia is the protagonist, the novel often steers away from her, and each character who is introduced comes with 20 pages of family history and back stories ranging from Puerto Rico to the rural South. Some readers tire of such tactics, but I never got bored with the sidetracks. The first three quarters of the novel are a beautiful composition about family, identity, race, jazz, and New York City, and one can't help but adore the righteous Vidamia and the people she encounters, from her sweet Southern stepmother to her womanizing, bongo-playing grandfather. However, towards the end of the book a group of villains are introduced, and the tone darkens rapidly. Remember the shocking scene in American History X when Edward Norton stomps on that kid's head? Well, the worst scene is this book is about 100 times more graphic, disturbing, and violent. I bought a copy of the book as a birthday gift for a friend before I got to that section, and now I feel wary about giving it to her. Like, "here's this book that's wonderful and inspiring and lyrical, except for the brutal rape and murder scene that's so horrifying I almost threw up while I was reading it. Enjoy!"
In summary, I give this book a 9 out of 10 on the Eileen scale, but with two major caveats:
1. it's long and wanders off track a lot, and some people don't like that sort of storytelling
2. You might not be able to handle the bad parts- here's one of the reader comments from Amazon: "When I encountered the sexual violent scene I had to get up and walk away. As a vet I read through the Vietnam memories in a cathartic nod; but when the sexual violence was crammed into my face I put the book down. I no longer cared about the book's ending."