A Barnes & Noble Great New Writers selection Winner of ForeWord Magazine’s Gold Medal in Literary Fiction
Of Song and Water tells a tale of the Great Lakes, of singlehanded sailors and jazz musicians, of working-class dreams blighted by family duty, personal betrayals, and the untold violence between fathers and sons. The story moves from the shores of Lake Huron and Lake Erie to the jazz bars of Detroit and Chicago, from 1920s Rivertown to present-day Humbug Marina, as it follows the life of Coleman Moore, a jazz guitarist who began his career with promise but who now finds himself adrift and in the company of ghosts: his mentor, a black jazz legend trying to live peacefully on the edge of a white town; his grandfather, a Prohibition rumrunner turned ruthless entrepreneur; and his first love, a clear-headed woman who refuses to live in the dark tunnels of the past. In language that evokes the riffs and rhythms of jazz and the sound and movement of the Great Lakes, Joseph Coulson’s second novel is a profound Orphic journey, a story of hidden truths, unfulfilled dreams, and possible redemption.
The jazz scenes crackle with energy and authority...Coulson moves fluidly between the past and the present, and the novel is ultimately quiet, affecting and redemptive.
— Publishers Weekly
Will remind readers of classic authors like Steinbeck and Zola, or perhaps such contemporary masters of wounded male pride and self-doubt as Raymond Carver and Russell Banks.
— The Buffalo News
An ambitious effort that heralds the arrival of an intriguing talent...Achieves the quiet beauty of William Maxwell's finest work—generous, episodic, elegiac but not sentimental...
— The Nation
A beautifully told story about family bonds, love, loss, and the power of memory over our lives.
— The Bloomsbury Review
Coulson's richly textured narrative abounds in passion and wonder...His real subject is not loss but the art of losing, the infinitely varied ways in which people try to live in the wake of loss.
— The San Diego Union-Tribune
Assured and purposeful...Coulson infuses each surprising and evocative moment with great feeling and mythic resonance...creating a somberly beautiful family saga.
A poignant look at working-class life...and the collision of personality with history.
— The Dallas Morning News
Coulson brings to his narrative a...poet's respect for the integrity of words—where each word, in relationship to those next to it, is summoned to stand as one with the reality it is meant to describe...All this, applied to the characters, makes them so vascular and alive that if you were to cut into a page on which they appear, you would half expect the page to bleed.
— The Common Review
Coulson is what we used to call (with apologies to the vegetarians) a meat and potatoes storyteller: clear, vivid, big-hearted. So many unheard voices speak and sing through his voice. Listen.
— Martín Espada
Like the best of the smoky, slow-burn [jazz], Of Song and Water unfolds with deceptively simple writing, the meaning and feeling building up almost unnoticed...the overall effect is like Coleman's music––understated, steady bass undercurrent, drum flourishes, and guitar work that, if you're only partway listening, seems competent enough, but when you give yourself up to the story, let it settle around you, can change the colors in the room.
— The Quarterly Conversation