Another Kind of Madness (A Novel)

By Ed Pavlic

Milkweed Editions | 2019

Reviewed by M. J. Moore

Here, There and Everywhere

Ed PavlicRare is the novel that transcends the limits of space, time, and locale. In so many fictions (from William Faulkner's focus on a postage-stamp portion of Mississippi to Elena Ferrante's fixation on Naples, Italy) one place is an anchoring device.

In the realm of author Ed Pavlic, however, it’s drastically different. The world at large is the locale across which his fateful and yearning main protagonists move along, break away, relocate and reunite in far-flung areas ranging from Chicago to Kenya and points between.

Yet, it’s not just geography (in the superficial sense) that adds texture and complexity to this daring novel about star-crossed lovers. In fact, it's constricting to think of Another Kind of Madness as merely a novel.

Instead, one does this book justice by realizing that it's also Ed Pavlic's audacious musical composition (yes, you read that right.)  Another Kind of Madness reads as prose fiction but to those with ears to hear, there is also a vibrant, multilayered, internationally flavored musical subtext. This gives his novel a unique tone.

Of course, there are traditional characters involved in narrative adventures— Ndiya Grayson is a professional young woman who’s back home in Chicago, unfulfilled and oddly frustrated by her seemingly enviable position at a high-end law firm.  One night, she goes out and inevitably meets Shame Luther.

His life is a double life—Shame Luther works in construction by day but he's a gifted piano player by night.  And the long-buried traumas of his life, as well as of Ndiya's, are gradually excavated and explored as they merge their lives, evolving together against the odds.

The musicality of this novel gives the story its pulse, tempo and flow. Words are like musical notes in this book.  Sentences are more than sentences—they are shifting melodic lines.

Similarly, punctuation is used not just in the grammatical sense but also as a rhythmic tool for creating startling effects and ornamental enhancements. Readers who bring their own love of music to this novel cannot help but apprehend how the passages and pages are like a varied mix of Soul music, blended with Funk, Jazz, and the Blues.  

There are mythic, intimate, psychological, and social tensions as Ndiya Grayson and Shame Luther confront their repressed pasts. They break new ground and risk a great deal by pressing on together. On a narrative level, even to a tone-deaf reader, their story will be engaging and propulsive.

However, for the fortunate readers who hear all the music between the lines, this novel promises the satisfaction that one finds when listening to Miles Davis's “Kind of Blue” album or the latter-day works of John Coltrane, who experimented so vastly with time signatures, overlapping themes and genres, and the very nature of idiosyncratic instrumental music.

Ed Pavlic has also created in his own way and just as boldly one hell of a story.

Here is a representative passage that hints at the sensuality and substance of the novel

And the tremor rises. Ndiya holds him by the thigh and around his back. He's so still she can feel the bed swing at the end of a long wire. She feels the ceiling holding back the sky. Neither of them move but he feels the tremor in the subtle, double grip and give of her pulse . . . She feels to him like a current has flashed into motion, like still water he waded into come alive. A slow, strong wind. He feels Ndiya Grayson shaking inside. And she's elsewhere. Anywhere. She's anywhere and he's everywhere else. There's a sudden, universal slowness. Her pulse shifts.

M. J. Moore is a contributor to Neworld Review

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