Read The Talking Drum by Lisa Braxton

It’s Lisa Braxton’s turn! She’s supported and cheerled and organized the rest of us Debs since August, and now her debut, THE TALKING DRUM, which takes place in 1970s Boston, is finally out in the world. I read it last weekend, and I think it’s absolutely essential.

Here’s why you should read THE TALKING DRUM if you’re a writer:

  • Lisa’s prose is spare and unsentimental. She lets the characters’ actions speak for themselves; she doesn’t offer any authorial commentary on right or wrong, good or bad, prescient or foolhardy. Sydney, a new bride, puts off law school in order to support her husband. Della, a southern transplant whose life hasn’t turned out as she hoped, accepts a philandering partner. Omar, a gifted musician, resorts to magic to save his marriage. As a writer, I learned a lot from Lisa’s restraint.
  • Lisa masterfully weaves a mystery around multiple family dramas. There’s an arsonist loose in Petite Africa and Liberty Heights. The suspects are all on the page, but Lisa forces us to look away from the fires. The domestic ups and downs, the relationships, and the political jostling take center stage; and then the mystery pulls everything together at the end.
  • Lisa moves the reader through time deftly and naturally. Weeks and months pass without pulling us out of the story. Relationships move forward off the page, but make satisfying sense despite the time leaps. Lisa has set a course for each character that feels both logical and novel. As a writer who struggles mightily with timeline, this book was a master class for me.

And here’s why you should read THE TALKING DRUM if you’re a reader:

  • The themes–systemic racism, gentrification, economic disparity, immigrant rights–are vitally important to our country right now and always.
  • The ending (no spoilers!) is ultimately satisfying and thought-provoking. I’d love to discuss it with a book club.
  • The characters feel like friends. Sydney, Della, Jasmine, Omar, Malachi, Uncle Mustafa–I became invested in their lives and thrilled when their storylines intersected.

Congratulations, Lisa! You deserve every accolade, and I know this is the first of many novels for you.

And, just a little p.s.: As usual, our Deb sister Karen hit it out of the park with her review this week. Read her post on THE TALKING DRUM here.

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Kathleen West

Kathleen West is the author of the forthcoming novel, Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes, out 2/4/20 from Berkley. She lives in Minneapolis with her family.

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