Study Guide

Jazz

Jazz Summary

Here's the condensed version of Jazz: A married dude shoots his eighteen-year-old girlfriend, and she dies. His wife is understandably bummed out. Everyone sits around thinking about history and listening to jazz for a few months. Another eighteen-year-old girl shows up, and the married couple dances and is happy again. Fin.

But that's seriously like giving you a thirty-second sample of Miles Davis's Sketches of Spain and saying "Yeah? Do you like it? Do you get it?" So let's try to give you something a little meatier.

Okay, Joe and Violet Trace's marriage has fallen into ruins because Joe had an affair with an eighteen-year-old girl and then shot and killed her. Not exactly a recipe for domestic bliss. Violet does what any sane woman would do and tries to cut the face of the dead girl—named Dorcas—at the open-casket funeral. Okay, we rescind our sanity judgment.

Now their house is, to put it mildly, a tad troubled. The silver lining in this tears-and-misery cloud is that they live in New York City. An unnamed narrator that floats about the book, peering into the recesses of everyone's consciousness, talking a lot about how shiny and splendid and sexy New York is.

Joe really acted like a scumbag, but we get a little bit of information about Violet's odd behavior prior to Dorcas's murder. She was trying to steal babies, talking nonsense, and carrying a baby doll. So yeah, the whole having-an-affair thing makes a little more sense now.

Violet and Joe met under a tree in Virginia during cotton-picking season. They fell in love, lived together for a long time, and eventually made their way up to New York City in 1906. But despite the fact that Joe and Violet had what sounds like a rocking good marriage, she went a little nuts and he got a case of the old wandering eye. Enter Dorcas. She and Joe carry on their affair in an upstairs neighbor's apartment. The neighbor works nights, so Joe and Dorcas have ample time to fool around.

We learn about Dorcas's Aunt Alice, who is a super-strict and super-pious woman who essentially thinks that jazz music is the devil using a megaphone to lure otherwise good kids into a life of sin. Fast-forward to just after Dorcas's death, when Violet and Alice become friends. Instability seems to run in Violet's family: Her mother committed suicide and she was raised by her grandmother, True Belle. For his part, Joe never knew his parents, but was raised by a kind family.

We now leave New York and the Joe/Violet drama and do some serious time travel.

Say hello to 1854, where the white daughter of a wealthy slave owner is knocked up, and the father of the illegitimate baby is a black man. The baby turns out to look almost totally Caucasian, so he's raised in relative peace until his eighteenth birthday when he finds out, courtesy of True Belle, that his father is black.

He decides to go find his father, but on the way through Virginia he encounters a naked, pregnant, and unconscious black woman. As he meets his father the unconscious girl wakes up and gives birth to a baby boy. The boy ends up being none other than Joe Trace. The mother, nicknamed "Wild," abandons Joe and runs off into the woods.

We time-travel back to wintery 1926, when Joe is stalking Dorcas. Joe shoots Dorcas as she is dancing at a jazz party where illicit stuff like gin-drinking and dancing cheek-to-cheek happening. Yowch.

Enter Felice, Dorcas's friend, and fast-forward to the spring of 1926. Felice goes to see Violet and Joe for a whole slew of complicated reasons. Weirdly enough, they all get along like a house on fire. Joe starts becoming happier, and Violet feels like she has a daughter, and they all dance. To jazz music.

  • Chapter 1

    • Someone speaking in the first person used to know Violet and her husband Joe. Who is this person speaking?
    • Hmm. Trouble in paradise, folks: Turns out Joe fell in love with an eighteen-year-old girl and then shot her "just to keep the feeling (of love) going." So this isn't a happy marriage, we're guessing.
    • Violet did what any woman with a philandering husband would do and cut the dead girl's face as she lay in the coffin and then let all of her pet birds out of their cages. Seems reasonable.
    • The dead girl's aunt didn't press charges on Joe because of lawyer fees and whatnot. Also, they figured he was suffering enough.
    • Violet is fifty, but she's still a hottie. Hot enough to get a boyfriend, even though her husband doesn't care.
    • Seeing that her husband doesn't care if she has another man in her life, she does a one-eighty and decides to be a domestic goddess: washing his handkerchiefs, putting a picture of his dead girlfriend on the mantle… Wait, what?
    • She also asked everybody about who the dead girl was. Curiosity killed the cat, Violet.
    • Ugh, then she starts doing the same dance moves as the dead girl. Creepy.
    • Joe and Violet's household is described as "mighty bleak," which seems like the understatement of the year.
    • Hmm, but later they invite another young girl into their house and start a "scandalizing threesome." Whoa, dudes—these are not the kind of fifty-year-olds we know.
    • Okay, so now the unnamed narrator is talking about the City.
    • It's an awesome city, and the narrator describes it in loving detail. The light is beautiful, the people are beautiful, the buildings are immense. It's a hard, exciting place. Sounds like New York to us.
    • Oh, yeah: It's Harlem, to be exact.
    • It was seven years after Armistice when Violet tried to cut the face of her husband's young, dead girlfriend. Our mathematical prowess and history knowledge tells us that this was the winter of 1926.
    • It's bitterly cold, but you know what? The City still rocks. The narrator continues to lovingly detail the landscape and population of the city. We're guessing the narrator has an "I Heart NY" t-shirt.
    • The City is awesome, but Joe and Violet's household is still bleak. Violet should not have let those birds out. Joe and Violet's favorite activity is to wake up in the middle of the night and stare at the picture of the dead girl. Healthy.
    • Oh, the dead girl's name is Dorcas.
    • Even with no birds and a creepy Dorcas photo, their apartment is comfy. This is good, especially since it's also where Violet works as a hairdresser.
    • Sometimes she makes house calls, too, and when she does, she talks to her clients about Dorcas. Our hairdresser talks to us about the weather—we officially feel grateful.
    • Hmm, Violet wonders if she's falling in love with Dorcas. Lesbian ghost love? In Harlem, 1926? We're so happy we picked this book up.
    • It turns out that Violet may not be the sanest hairdresser in the world. She's an excellent stylist, but she also does things like sit down in the middle of the street for no reason and um, steals babies?
    • Well, she didn't actually steal the baby. She only walked down the street with it, but she contemplated stealing him. But she was caught, and had an alibi.
    • Aw, Violet wants a baby. But she's too old. Bummer.
    • She didn't used to be crazy—nope, she used to be no-nonsense and determined. But "cracks" started forming in her notion of reality.
    • Sometimes she says inappropriate things.
    • Her reaction to this is to go completely mute. This depresses her husband, and kind of prompts him to start looking at other women with serious interest.
  • Chapter 2

    • Sometimes it's hard to sleep. Insomnia is the worst. You can cure it with strenuous exercise or drinking a lot of alcohol—or routine. To each his own.
    • Joe used to fall asleep thinking about Dorcas. Now he thinks about thinking about Dorcas in order to fall asleep: He remembers his memories.
    • Joe met Dorcas in October, when he was delivering Cleopatra cosmetics. He hit on her, which was a departure for Joe.
    • Apparently young Joe was the hit-upon, not the one who hit on people. Lucky Joe?
    • Or not. He really cherishes the fact that he made the first move with Dorcas.
    • Flashback: Joe and Violet met in Virginia under a tree. Romantic, but mainly they were just thrown together by circumstance. They worked together and knew all the same people.
    • They left Virginia by train in 1906 and went to New York City; they've been New Yorkers for 20 years now.
    • It sounds like a fun trip. They were laughing, dancing, and as they moved north the train cars went from segregated to un-segregated.
    • History info: We find out that Joe and Violet came at the tail end of what is known as the Great Migration, when black people moved from the South to the North by the thousands. Uh, maybe those segregated dining cars had something to do with that? Just a thought?
    • Let's take a quick second to shake our heads at racism. Boo. Just boo.
    • When newbies come to New York City, they fall in love with it. The lights, the glamour, the possibility, the sexiness—the City is said to "pump desire." Dang.
    • People move to the City and forget their past, especially if their past was in the country. Nature can't compare to big-city excitement.
    • Also, the City has some really nice evening skies. Light pollution does marvelous things.
    • Weird flashback time: Joe remembers a time, or times, when he begged a woman hidden in the bushes in Virginia to show him her hand.
    • Sounds like this hidden woman must have been his mother. Weirdness.
    • He didn't tell anyone about this show-me-your-hand-Mommy episode until 1925 when he was canoodling with Dorcas.
    • Aw, it actually sounds like Dorcas and Joe had a bond—they cuddled and talked about their moms.
    • Dorcas's mom died in a fire.
    • Also, they had a smoking-hot sex life. They have a hard time keeping the volume down.
    • Dorcas wants Joe to take her out to nightclubs, and who is he to deny her anything?
    • They're carrying on this tryst in the apartment of Joe's neighbor, Malvonne. She works nights, so Joe and Dorcas have ample time to fool around.
    • Ah, new character. Malvonne is an interesting woman. She collects newspapers and she reads the letters that her nephew Sweetness stole out of mailboxes when he was looking for money.
    • PSA: Stealing mail is super illegal. Just say no to felonies.
    • Joe (whose last name is Trace, btw) knocked on Malvonne's door when she was reading these letters and offered to pay her two dollars a month to use her nephew's room a couple times a week for his and Dorcas's sexytimes.
    • They have a talk about this, and Malvonne ends up agreeing. This is probably due to the fact that this is Joe's first time dogging around behind Violet's back, and Joe is upset about Violet being mute and kind of unhinged.
    • The narrator talks a bit about how Joe became a Thursday man, which is shorthand in this instance for satisfied man. The narrator thinks that Thursday is the most satisfying day of the week. Sounds about right to us.
  • Chapter 3

    • Whoa, who is Alice Manfred? Besides someone watching the 4th of July Parade in 1917?
    • We know that she's hurt by the "cold black faces" and the drums in the parade. Aren't parades supposed to be fun?
    • Being hurt is better than being afraid, and Alice is perpetually afraid. For good reason: White people in multiple states, and now in New York City, have been really horrible.
    • For example: They try to pick her up as a prostitute, and don't sell her things, and move away from her rudely.
    • Oh, she's hurt by the parade because the faces in the parade mirror her own fear of existing as a black woman in America, 1917. She's not afraid any longer, though, because she's in charge of an orphan girl.
    • She dresses the orphaned girl conservatively, so people don't harass her. Women these days dress too provocatively, according to Alice.
    • Provocatively, but also—Alice secretly thinks—beautifully. She's a seamstress, and she knows well-made clothes.
    • Alice believes that post-WWI life is a sign of the Imminent Demise, as evidence by the clothes and especially the music. It makes people think nasty sex thoughts.
    • Somehow, in Alice's mind the "lowdown" music is connected to the cold faces of black men in the 4th of July Parade, and to riots in St. Louis.
    • Alice's brother-in-law was one of the many black men killed in the St. Louis riots, and her sister died shortly thereafter when her house was torched.
    • The dead sister and brother-in-law left behind a girl named Dorcas.
    • Ah-ha—we get the connection. You know that there is only one person named Dorcas in this book.
    • So Alice Manfred is Aunt Alice to Joe's dead ex-girlfriend.
    • The one who didn't call the cops on Joe. This makes sense now. No one was arrested for the murder of Alice's sister and brother-in-law, so why should anyone be arrested for the murder of her niece?
    • Gosh, the world stinks sometimes.
    • But you know what makes the world stink, according to Alice? Jazz music.
    • The music is sexy, but also has a core of hostility and anger. The music gets to Alice, and she thinks about it when she's trying to sleep.
    • Dorcas loves jazz. She loves the sexiness and she loves the City.
    • If jazz is angry, maybe that's why Dorcas likes it so much: Dorcas is also angry.
    • Dorcas is also really enamored by the idea of tragic lust and love.
    • Yeah, Dorcas likes boys a lot. She tries to dance with two handsome brothers at a dance but, because her aunt dresses her like a young girl and she has to wear clunky shoes, they reject her.
    • Ouch. Rejection is the worst. Dorcas wonders if anyone will ever want her, and then Joe comes through the door and whispers that yes, he definitely wants her. Definitely.
    • It was about time, too. Dorcas was going stir-crazy with her aunt's rules and sexual desire, and the allure of the City and the constant sexy jazz didn't do much to calm her down.
    • Okay, perspective switch. We get Joe's account of the meeting. Joe went over to deliver some of his wares (Cleopatra beauty products) and was thinking dismally about the dinner Violet was preparing for him.
    • He used to like Violet's cooking, but it's not his style any more. Jazz tip: In jazz music, as in Jazz, cooking is sexual metaphor number one.
    • Joe doesn't like Violet's cooking (wink, wink) but he likes candy. And when he sees Dorcas again, he remembers seeing her the first time, when she was—nudge, nudge—buying candy.
    • It's a big deal that Joe starts an affair with Dorcas because women flirt with him, like, all the time.
    • But until Dorcas, he doesn't make a move. Dorcas makes him distracted.
    • The narrator (still unnamed) interjects to say that Dorcas was always kind of a hussy. Judgmental much, narrator?
    • Another thing about Alice Manfred: She's a news junkie. Loves newspapers and current events, which is why (just maybe) she doesn't have an optimistic outlook on the world.
    • Okay, we're leaving October and fast-forwarding to March. Dorcas is dead and Alice is peeved about it. Wow. That was a fast love affair, all told.
    • Alice thinks about how Joe really seemed like he could be trusted before, you know, he killed Dorcas.
    • Who should arrive on Alice's doorstep but Violet, whom Alice—shocker—doesn't want to see.
    • More Alice history: Her parents instructed her on how to be a lady. The shorthand is that, before marriage, don't have sex and don't even look like you want sex. After marriage, have all the babies.
    • Okay, we're really getting to know Alice and her uptightness seems pretty reasonable, considering her history.
    • Black women, according to Alice, should be armed with either a weapon, God, money, or an armed man.
    • Thinking over this "black women should be armed" thing, Alice lets Violet into her house and tells her about Dorcas.
    • They talk, they laugh, they become something approximating buddies.
    • Huh. It turns out that Alice was once left by a man, and she has harbored a burning resentment not toward men, but toward women. She daydreams about killing women she thinks behave like sluts. Whoa there, Alice. Whoa.
  • Chapter 4

    • Violet sits in a diner after leaving Alice's house. She thinks about another Violet.
    • Nope, not another woman. Another side of herself that she calls "that Violet." This is sounding loony.
    • That Violet, apparently, was the one that tried to slice up Dorcas's face as she lay in the coffin.
    • We get the details of the funeral attack. Violet was pretty rowdy, and tried to punch out some ushers. Yikes.
    • That Violet also let all the birds out of their cages.
    • We interrupt this program to give you a handy Lit Pro-Tip: Always pay attention to birds and cages in literature. Nine times out of ten they're going to be super symbolic.
    • Violet at the diner regrets letting the birds out. She misses them. She drowns her sorrow in another milkshake that she drinks in order to plump up her figure. Good idea, Violet. We're going to get a milkshake ourselves.
    • Okay, there are now at least three Violets at play: Another Violet—young Violet—comes out to play. Young Violet is curvy and hot.
    • Now Diner Violet is thinking about Dorcas and Joe. Did Dorcas think about Joe as a young man? Young Joe was hot as well. Did Joe do things with Dorcas that he used to do with Violet? Did he let her eat his ice cream and popcorn?
    • Remember that foodstuffs and cooking are referring obliquely to sexytimes.
    • Oh, gosh. Violet is really stewing about what Joe and Dorcas did together. We want to tell her to stop. She's getting riled up and thinking about why she wanted to cut Dorcas in the first place: She was angry.
    • Violet comes to the angry realization that all the Violets in play at this point are all just her. She's also fuming.
    • Violet mentions how Dorcas's skin was high-yellow instead of black like Violet's. Is that what Joe liked? Violet also remembers how a "golden boy […] tore up her girlhood as surely as if (they'd) been the best of lovers." Hmm. Who is this mysterious golden boy?
    • Violet remembers how she decided to go mute instead of appearing crazy.
    • Now she thinks back to her mother, who also went crazy and stopped talking.
    • Her mother also called in her mother—a.k.a. Violet's grandmother, True Belle—to come help out around the house. Everything was okay in Violet's childhood home until her mother committed suicide.
    • Violet only met her father once.
    • Violet wonders why her mother killed herself. Did it have anything to do with a rash of racist violence that broke out before she died?
    • Violet's takeaway from her mother's death was to never, ever have babies.
    • Violet left her home for a job picking cotton. The work was brutally hard, and white people got paid more than black people.
    • But the silver lining is that Violet met Joe there. He was sleeping in a tree and she was sleeping under it. He fell out of bed in the middle of the night.
    • Joe was really handsome, and Violet stuck around to be with him. Fourteen years later they moved to the City.
    • Violet intentionally miscarried in order to not be burdened with children in New York. And also because of her mom's insanity.
    • Uh-oh… By forty, Violet really wants a baby of her own and she's completely obsessed with children.
    • The plot thickens. We're back in the present, and Violet tells Alice that she kind of thinks of Dorcas as the daughter she never had.
    • Alice and Violet talk more about Dorcas, and life. This is a flashback to right before the time the chapter starts, from about an hour before Violet is sitting in the diner.
    • Alice reminds Violet of her grandmother True Belle, which is kind of sweet.
    • Finally, after all of this time traveling, Violet leaves the diner. It's springtime in New York.
  • Chapter 5

    • Spring in the City is better than winter in the City. Statement of the year, right?
    • If you were walking around Harlem in the Spring of 1926 you would have seen a man crying. Surprise: It's Joe. Crying over Dorcas.
    • Joe's sadness is compounded by a man singing the blues.
    • Joe really was a ladies' man. Not that he slept with them; they just really liked him and his Cleopatra cosmetics.
    • The narrator says that all Joe wanted was the same thing everyone else does: young loving. And Dorcas was definitely young and definitely loving.
    • Now we hear Joe's side of things. He's in the first person now, and wants us to know that he didn't tell other men about his conquest.
    • He had a boyhood buddy named Victory that he would have told, but Victory's gone—so he tells us instead.
    • Joe mentions how his work in the city has involved "selling trust." Waiting tables, selling cosmetics, and such are all part of the trust business.
    • He was born in Virginia in 1873, and raised by a family that took him in. Victory is his step-brother, as it turns out. Joe gives himself the last name Trace, because his birth parents left without a trace.
    • Joe describes the moment he gave himself the last name Trace as his first rebirth, or his second birth.
    • His third birth (he collects births the way some people collect stamps, we guess) came when he learned to be a man and become independent. The guy who taught him to be a man was named Hunter's Hunter and he was (no surprise here) a hunter.
    • His fourth birth came when he moved to Palestine, a town fifteen miles away from his hometown. He met Violet there, under that super-romantic tree.
    • The fifth birth comes when he and Violet move to New York City. These births are also describes as changes, so there are either five births or four changes—you know, just to keep you on your toes.
    • Violet and Joe were happy at first. (We've heard this tune before.) They were happy, but then Violet went mute.
    • A sixth birth fifth change happened in 1917 when a bunch of white men tried to beat Joe to death. The what now? This is the first time we've heard about this? That's brutal.
    • By 1925 Violet had become mute and started sleeping with a doll. Oh boy. That doll is kind of creepy sounding.
    • Joe is kind of just talking at the reader now, jumping back and forth in time. He talks about how everyone was shocked when he left Virginia because he was a country boy.
    • The seventh birth was when he saw Dorcas.
    • Now he starts talking about Dorcas. She had bad skin, but he thought her bad skin was kind of adorable and didn't want her to change.
    • He "tracked" Dorcas after she left him.
    • He mentions that he didn't intentionally start tracking her—he kind of blames the musicians singing the blues for making him act like such a stalker.
    • Oh dear. Now he starts addressing Dorcas as "you." We're deep inside his head now, and it's uncomfortable in here.
    • He says he knows that the things Dorcas said to him the last time they saw each other weren't true. Uh, sure, guy—she breaks up with you and your response is: It's not true. That's a little unhinged.
    • He's jealous of the young men whom, according to Joe, don't have to chase women but just sit and let all the women come up to them.
    • Joe remembers telling Dorcas that she's the reason Adam ate the famous apple in the Garden of Eden. So Dorcas is like the knowledge of good and evil?
    • He goes off the deep end a bit, and rants about how he carved their initials in a rock (a rock) and how he chose her and how important that was.
    • Back in the day, according to Joe, if you were black you needed to change/be reborn every day and every night; you also had to stay the same.
    • The rest of what Joe is saying is (intentionally) incomprehensible.
  • Chapter 6

    • Time to time-travel: This time we're way back in time and True Belle (Violet's grandmother) is leaving for Baltimore.
    • She returned in 1888, in time to see her daughter Rose Dear go off her rocker.
    • True Belle left Baltimore because she claimed she was dying, but she didn't die until 1899—that's a long period of dying.
    • She told all her grandchildren about a marvelous man with the awesomely fantastic name of Golden Gray.
    • Golden Gray was the son of Vera Louise, the woman that True Belle worked for; Golden Gray is biracial.
    • So True Belle, Golden Grey, and Vera Louise lived in a sweet house in Baltimore. Vera Louise claims she left her Virginia home for the big city of Baltimore because her family was too stifling. That's partially true…
    • … But it also has to do with her illegitimate son, Golden Gray. The father was a guy who used to go horseback riding, and, uh, do other things, with Vera Louise.
    • When Vera Louise's family found out, they were scandalized. Especially her father, who was a respectable man… but also had a bunch of illegitimate children with his slaves.
    • So Vera Louise packs up to go to Baltimore with True Belle. The plan is to drop Golden Gray at an orphanage, but Vera Louise loves him so much she doesn't want to leave him.
    • They're a big happy family in Baltimore for eighteen years.
    • True Belle loved Golden Gray like a son. Oh, we get it now: Golden Gray is the magnificent golden man that haunted Violet's childhood.
    • Oh, welcome back, nameless narrator. Who are you?
    • The narrator sees Golden Gray in a two-seater carriage. It's the red convertible of carriages, and he's all dressed up in his finest.
    • He's driving down a country road when he sees a naked black woman with big eyes. That's weird.
    • The woman crashes into a tree and loses consciousness. Oops, she's also hugely pregnant. Golden Gray picks her up and puts her in his carriage, which is nice, even though he's a little more preoccupied with his clothes than he is with her. Jerk.
    • He's going toward a little town named Vienna… to find his father, Henry LesTroy. He has just been told, after eighteen years, that his father is black. Up until now, Golden Gray has thought that he is white. Dang.
    • He gets to the house that he has been told is his daddy's. And then he does what anyone would do, and puts the unconscious woman on a bed and drinks some of the alcohol that's been left in the house, and makes a fire.
    • Oh wow. He's only known that his father was a black man for a week now, and he's already gone to track him down. This information is fresh in his mind.
    • A young man on horseback approaches the house. He totally thinks Golden Gray is white, and he tells Golden Gray that yes, he's in the house that belongs to Henry LesTroy; Henry LesTroy will be back in a bit.
    • After a few paragraphs of description of Golden Gray we can safely come to the conclusion that he a selfish, spoiled brat. A nice guy, too, but still selfish and spoiled.
    • While he waits for Henry LesTroy to show up, Golden Gray watches the unconscious woman fearfully.
    • His world was really rocked when he found out his father was black. It means that he could have been born a slave, for one thing, and he just has a bit of an identity crisis about it in general.
    • The young man, who works for Henry LesTroy, is nicer to the unconscious woman than Golden Gray was. He cleans the blood from her face, for one thing, which it totally seems like Golden Gray could have done.
  • Chapter 7

    • Thirteen years after Golden Gray's arrival in Vienna, the pregnant naked chick that Golden Gray found in the woods apparently roams around the countryside by Vienna for quite some time, scaring grandfathers. She's nicknamed Wild.
    • Hunter's Hunter (the guy that mentored Joe Trace when he was a boy, remember) thinks that if he had tended the girl he named Wild, she would have been a better mother.
    • Ah-ha: Hunter's Hunter is Henry LesTroy, and he's one of the only people in Vienna to have seen Golden Gray. The other, of course, is the young man that sees Golden Gray hanging out in Hunter's/Henry's house.
    • When Hunter's Hunter first came back to his house, he thought Golden Gray was white—everybody does, apparently.
    • Hunter's Hunter goes in and checks out the unconscious, pregnant Wild. He notices that Golden Gray drank some of his liquor, and this peeves him because it violates the code of conduct: going into a hunter's unoccupied cabin is totally cool, but touching his bottle is not.
    • Hunter challenges Golden Gray, and Golden Gray looks back at him levelly and calls him "Daddy," which throws Hunter's Hunter for a loop.
    • Luckily, Wild starts going into labor, causing a diversion. While she's giving birth, Golden and Hunter have a terse conversation about how Golden knows that Hunter is his father. It's not a sweet father-son reunion in the least, and Hunter essentially tells Golden that he needs to man up, while Golden seriously contemplates shooting Hunter in the head. Not the kind of stuff you put on a father's day card.
    • And flash-forward: Joe and his step-brother Victory work in the fields, but also spend quite a bit of time with Hunter's Hunter.
    • Hunter's Hunter alludes to Joe that Wild is Joe's mother. This is deeply unsettling for him, and we find out that he's made a few trips to find her and actually talk to her.
    • It's doubly upsetting because he finds out that Wild is his mother when Victory and Joe are joking about finding Wild and killing her. Oh, yeah, that woman you wanted to murder? She's your mom.
    • Joe is, er, wildly ashamed about having a wild woman as a mother and thinks that having a prostitute or a drunk would have been better.
    • Nevertheless, he goes and tries to find her.
    • Remember when Joe had a convoluted memory about trying to see someone's hand in a bunch of bushes? Yeah, that was one of the attempts he made to find his mommy and talk to her. He didn't have any luck.
    • He tries to find her several times, but he also drowns his sorrows in working like a maniac. This is a pretty productive use of sadness, if you ask us.
    • He recalls how his work-mania eventually led him to New York. In a flash-forward to 1926, Joe looks back and wonders where Hunter's Hunter is, and where Victory is. Are they even alive? Joe hasn't got a clue.
    • Ah, yes. Joe is thinking about all of this as he tracks/stalks Dorcas through New York. This is January, shortly before he kills Dorcas.
    • He's walking around in a daze in the awful cold; he sees some young women and resents them and their dates for being young and in love.
    • A pattern starts now where paragraphs of Joe stalking Dorcas through New York alternate with paragraphs of Joe, already married to Violet, looking for Wild in Virginia. This is important: A parallel is being established.
    • Joe in New York wonders what Dorcas would want with a young man when he, Joe, could treat her much better than a young man could.
    • Joe in Virginia finds a little cave, enters it, and is greeted with the smell of cooking oil. Weird: cooking oil in a cave.
    • Joe in New York thinks about how Dorcas will change her mind, want him back, and want only him. Delusional much, Joe?
    • Joe in Virginia finds a pretty homey little set-up in the cave. It's obviously Wild's. Although Joe can't recognize the following articles of clothing, we can: A pair of Golden Gray's trousers are in the cave, as is the green dress that Golden Gray covered Wild in when he took her into Hunter's Hunter's house.
  • Chapter 8

    • Joe finds Dorcas, dancing at an "adult" party where all the dancing and drinking and carousing goes on in public.
    • It's thrilling. It's a party full of jazz and beautiful people, and exactly what young Dorcas would have dreamed about.
    • And Dorcas is in love. She's dancing with a really handsome young man, and by their body language it's obvious that she is way more into him that he is into her. But they have chemistry nonetheless.
    • Dorcas is happy that her new man isn't old. She's also happy that other women want to be with him, and that she has him to herself. 
    • We shift into Dorcas's perspective now. She knows that Joe is going to come after her because of the expression he had when she told him that it was over. She tried to be nice about it, but Joe refused to be nice about the whole thing and Dorcas ended up telling him that he made her sick.
    • Her new BF is named Acton. She essentially dumped Joe for Acton, because Acton was hot but also because she wanted to have a relationship that was out in the open, and enviable.
    • She told her friend Felice about the whole Joe thing, and Felice was a little grossed-out by Dorcas hooking up with an old guy.
    • Back at the party, dancing with Acton, Dorcas knows again that Joe is coming for her, but she's all snuggled against Acton and pleased with life.
    • Why is Acton so great? Well, he bosses Dorcas around and tells her what to wear and she buys him presents. Jeez. This relationship sounds like the pits.
    • But Dorcas was so sick of Joe fawning over her with puppy-dog eyes that Acton, even though he sounds like a scumbag, is a refreshing change.
    • Dorcas thinks about how all's fair in love and war.
    • When Joe shows up (Dorcas seems to have a premonition that he's come), he'll see that Dorcas is with Acton now and, in Dorcas's mind, will leave her alone.
    • Yeah, that's not what happens.
    • In first-person DorcasVision, we see her get shot: She falls, is taken to a bed, sees blood on Acton's snazzy jacket; then she tells everyone that she's tired, which is a total sign that she's dying. 
    • Her friends—Felice especially—want Dorcas to tell them that it was Joe that shot her. 
    • Huh. She confuses the contents of Joe's Cleopatra beauty products case with her childhood dolls—you know, the dolls burnt in the fire that killed her mother.
    • She also says, "I know his name, but Mama won't tell." Holy Sigmund Freud, Batman.
    • She attempts to tell Felice his name but is confused and losing blood. The last thing she sees is a bowl of oranges, and the last thing she hears is a familiar jazz song.
    • Best. Death. Scene. Ever.
  • Chapter 9

    • Well, things might not be going too smoothly over at the old Violet-Joe house, but at least the weather is nice?
    • The city is coming to life, and music is pouring off of every rooftop, which sounds awesome.
    • Also, everyone is thinking about sex. Springtime: When young men, old men, old women, and young women's fancy turns toward love.
    • But at least Violet returned Dorcas's photograph to Alice. Thank goodness. It was about time.
    • Violet is feeling better, and all of a sudden she sees a girl that looks like Dorcas's doppelganger. Whoa—she's even carrying a record.
    • She's also carrying some stew meat.
    • Recap: Food = sex in jazz music, food = sex in Jazz. Even kind of warm stew meat.
    • This girl is heading up the steps toward Violet.
    • Another perspective shift: Time to dive into the first-person point of view of Felice.
    • So Felice lives with her grandmother because her parents work out of town and only come to visit every three weeks. That's not a lot, but even when they see her they're not exactly warm and loving—they say they miss her, and then her dad reads the paper and her mom goes dancing.
    • When she tries to connect with her dad about current events, her dad kind of snaps at her and tells her that racism is more prevalent than she thinks. Good point, Dad, but shouldn't you be nicer to the daughter you only see every three weeks?
    • Her mother takes her shopping at Tiffany's. Fancy.
    • Felice kind of meanders here and starts talking about Dorcas. They were friends even though they had different shades of skin: Felice was way darker than Dorcas. They were besties, actually.
    • Felice didn't like Dorcas hanging out with Joe because he was gross and old, and also because Dorcas spent so much time with him. Dorcas started getting devious when she started dating Joe, slipping on scandalous underwear when she was safely out of Alice's house.
    • Felice does think that Joe was good looking, though. She also thinks that Dorcas was not a beauty. She's a little harsh about it.
    • Dorcas also liked to do wild and crazy things like slap sales clerks (!) and cuss people out.
    • Felice's opinion was that Dorcas was with Joe for the rush of having an illicit affair with a married man.
    • Anyway, back in the present, she says that she only went to Violet and Joe's house because she wanted her opal ring back.
    • Back in the day, when her mom took her to Tiffany's, she stole the opal ring—Felice knows that her mother stole the ring, even though she told her it was a gift from her boss.
    • Felice lent Dorcas the opal ring because it matched her bracelets, and because she wanted to impress Acton.
    • Felice didn't approve of Acton, either. She saw how Dorcas bent over backward to give Acton presents and how he just treated her badly in response. Sigh. Love is blind.
    • Jeez, Acton didn't even wear the presents Dorcas gave him. What a booger.
    • Anyway, Felice's mom is asking about what happened to the opal ring. Neither parent works away from home these days, and they seem happier.
    • But that's not the only reason that Felice came to visit Violet and Joe. She knows that Joe has been devastated since Dorcas's death and wants to tell him (1) that she thought Dorcas was kind of manipulative, and (2) something that Dorcas told her. How secretive.
    • Violet tells Felice that Dorcas was "Ugly, outside and in," and Felice agrees.
    • Felice thinks that Violet and Joe seem pretty cool, actually, and she stays for dinner that first evening. She makes Joe smile, and she talks to Violet about the sensation of having multiple personalities.
    • Violet and Felice seriously hit it off and really open up to each other.
    • Felice gets angry, though, when Violet says that Felice reminds Joe of Dorcas. Like, really mad. She yells. And then she says that Dorcas let herself die, because she wanted to go to sleep. This seems unreasonable. But, like we said, Felice is peeved.
    • Dorcas didn't want an ambulance called, and she didn't want to be carried downstairs and driven to the hospital; she died from blood loss.
    • Felice starts crying, and Violet asks her if this is the first time she's cried about Dorcas's death. It is.
    • Violet and Joe invite Felice over for dinner that Friday—Friday is catfish night.
    • When she goes back for the catfish dinner, Felice finds out that the opal ring was buried with Dorcas.
    • While Violet is busy with a customer, Felice talks to Joe. Felice means happy, and Joe asks her if she is happy. She answers: "Yes. No." Good answer, Felice.
    • Joe tells her that he saw a tender, kind side of Dorcas; he also tells Felice that he killed Dorcas because he was scared of loving her. In our humble opinion, that's not a great reason.
    • Felice tells Joe that before Dorcas died she told Felice something: "There's only one apple. Tell Joe."
    • Remember how Joe compared Dorcas to the apple of the knowledge of good and evil? Yup.
    • Violet's customer leaves, and Violet and Joe dance to the music that's playing outside. It's really sweet, and then Felice joins in and they all dance together.
    • Felice decides to tell her mother the truth about what happened to the ring. She's also glad that Dorcas has the ring, even in the grave.
    • Felice is feeling totally big-hearted and charitable. She thinks about Dorcas's foolishness—especially about how she said she'd "won" Acton—but she's loving about it. The weather is good and it looks like summer will arrive soon. Violet's catfish was good. Felice thinks about how much she loves her mother. Felice is being totally sweet.
  • Chapter 10

    • Okay, back to Nameless Narrator Town. Who is this person? What do they want? Why do they know everything?
    • This nameless narrator is a masochist and has a "sweet tooth" for pain.
    • No-name is also a sadist, who "breaks lives to prove (I) can mend them again."
    • This narrator both watched, and lied to, Violet and Joe. The narrator was sure that one would kill the other, but realized that (she? He? It?) was wrong.
    • Violet and Joe are more complicated and human than the narrator initially thought.
    • The narrator thinks that the Joe/Violet/Dorcas trio is in a way the mirror image (read: opposite) of the Joe/Violet/Felice trio.
    • Joe was totally running around looking for Wild's hiding place at the same time that he was looking for Dorcas, according to Mysterious Narrator.
    • Ah, we get a character round-up.
    • Alice moves to Springfield, Massachusetts. Maybe that's for the best.
    • Felice still loves buying records, and still walks slowly.
    • Joe works the night shift at a speakeasy. He returns home at around dawn, eats breakfast with Violet, and then they both nap. Domestic bliss seems to have been restored. They go out and drink milkshakes together.
    • They also go walking and talk to neighbors, or take the train downtown, or just stay around their apartment. It's second-honeymoon time in the Trace residence.
    • Oh, and Violet bought a new bird, so you know everything is okay now. The bird loves music.
    • Sometimes after dinner, Violet and Joe cuddle in bed and talk to one another. Gosh, this is sweet. They're thinking of buying a new blanket.
    • Flashback to 1906, when they had just moved to New York. Violet, exhausted by a day of work, falls asleep adorably with one shoe on. Joe comes back from two months away and is delighted to see her exactly as she is; he takes her shoe off, and she laughs in her sleep.
    • The weird anonymous narrator now talks about the beauty of summer nights, love, dancing, and music—the gist of this poetic aside is that life contains pain and pleasure in equal measure.
    • The narrator now talks about old married couples in general, and about Violet and Joe in particular. These couples like to lie in bed and snuggle under the covers and talk about memories and the way that things could have turned out in their lives—this snuggling-in-bed time is their super-cute private time.
    • The narrator envies both this cutesy-pie snuggle time and the public love these old married people share, especially their adorable acts of public grooming.
    • Poor anonymous narrator wants some love. But it sounds like the narrator has never known public love and only loved in secret. It's kind of sad.
    • The novel ends with the narrator saying to an imagined lover: "Look where your hands are. Now."