A work of speculative historical fiction that depicts the lives of Thelonious Monk and his wife, Nellie, Joe Milazzo’s Crepuscule W/ Nellie does not attempt historical accuracy. Neither is it an ekphrastic experiment meant to mimic Monk’s brilliance, with his signature dissonant harmonies and angular melodic twists. Instead, much like Monk’s composing, Crepuscule W/ Nellie creates a whole new architecture in which to tell its story.
“The challenge in writing on behalf of Joe Milazzo’s fiction is finding the language to convey how special it is, but let us begin with audacious and fearless, lyrical and brilliant, superbly imaginative and assuredly accomplished — one of tomorrow’s great novelists on the cusp of his moment.” — Steve Erickson (Zeroville, Our Ecstatic Days)
“A polyvocal narrative that’s part Faulkner à la midcentury Manhattan’s jazz epicenters, part early 90’s avant-pop crossed with Black Mountain poetics, and part ghost, Joe Milazzo’s genrebending Crepuscule W/ Nellie boldly re-imagines the relationship between fact and fiction.” — Claire Donato (Burial)
“Milazzo dug this lost recording of the Monk/Monk/Pannonica trio — dug as in figured, as in got into, as in exhumed — out that ‘dustbin’ folks talk about. And since the composition called Crepuscule W/ Nellie is this time a story storying history, the good mess Milazzo so expertly messes with alchemizes the linguistic odds-and-ends that make a vernacular both high-falluting and low-down; the factual scraps that member a fiction into a rich speculation; and the individuals ignored so long they must come back to us in books. Our author has given us a fascinating one. Dig it, dig it, dig it.” — Douglas Kearney (The Black Automaton, PATTER)
“Milazzo’s work inhabits a place much like that between sleep and wakefulness — one is neither conscious nor unconscious, and the mind is free to chart a different terrain, where hallucinations are lucid, rational action is absurd, and the rigid metronome of what we understand as time is unhinged, giving rise to an altogether looser continuum where repetitions, breakdowns, and indeterminate codas are the norm. It seems unnecessary, while perhaps perverse, to make pointed mention of Monk — much less jazz — here. The term ‘jazz’ itself, which fittingly bears no formal etymology, was little used by so-called jazz musicians of Monk’s era. For these musicians, art was tagless. It strikes me that, with this debut novel, Milazzo abides by a similar guiding principle.” — Laton Carter (Leaving)
“A supple weave of textures, voices, influences echoed and then amplified; Joe Milazzo’s Crepuscule W/ Nellie masterfully carries out the serious business of mapping out a collective consciousness in all of its layers, tangles, dense thickets and odd gaps. His subjects are many: creativity and sacrifice, patronage, women caring for men, women caring for each other. The book has its refrains, its passages that suggest impassioned improvisation, its tempo shifts, moments of melodic clarity followed by transitions that seek and struggle and finally—as much like Keith Jarrett as Thelonious Monk—explode into even freer terrain. It’s bold, challenging work that connects Milazzo back to a line of authors, like Faulkner and Joyce, who saw the novel as not just a tale well told but a place to inhabit.” — Mike Heppner (The Egg Code, We Came All This Way)
“Joe Milazzo’s Crepuscule W/ Nellie is a blast. So rarely do we get a novel this momentous, challenging, ambitious — Crepuscule W/ Nellie transcends expectation. I’m moved by the fierce acuity of the maximalist prose, never less than adroit and vital as it parses a famous triangle between the maestro, Thelonious Monk, his wife Nellie, and the Bebop Baroness, Pannonica de Koenigswarter, the most storied music patron of the 20th century. Triangulating the infinite personal declensions between struggling black musicians and the white patrons, between the women and their men, Joe Milazzo’s language brilliantly echolocates that essentially American distance, sounding out an American loneliness that is with us still.” — Sesshu Foster (World Ball Notebook, Atomik Aztex)
“Joe Milazzo’s Crepuscule W/ Nellie takes as its great and original subject a care-giver’s, literally home-maker’s immensely improvising relation to a creative genius, a demanding, needy, powerful, enigmatic, often disappointing man who was her husband. That is what this long, intimate, painfully American, many-voiced rumination of a novel is about — though also, and indirectly, about much that is implied by its title, which was first that of Thelonious Monk’s shortest major composition, one of my favorites, with its outer, measured clarity and inner, off-balance infinities and shadows. Has Milazzo added the lyrics? I think rather that he has written a deep, interior book about lives that included jazz and everything else. A book that will last.” — Joseph McElroy (Cannonball, Women and Men)
Crepuscule W/ Nellie can be ordered directly from Jaded Ibis Press (and direct orders are greatly appreciated), via Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and at selected independent booksellers. In the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, copies (some autographed) are available for purchase at Recycled Books (Denton), Serj Books, and The Wild Detectives. Statewide, copies can also be found at Malvern Books in Austin and Houston’s Brazos Bookstore. If you cannot find the book at your local independent bookstore, or if you are an independent bookseller interested in stocking the book, please contact me.
Excerpts from Crepuscule W/ Nellie may be found in the pages of The American Literary Review, Berfrois, Black Clock, The Collagist, and Dreginald. You can also read (and download) my “Author’s Afterword” to the novel, here.
Crepuscule W/ Nellie also has a dedicated website: http://crepusculewnellie.com/. You can interact with annotated excerpts from the novel, and even submit your own notes and paratextual content.
Find Crepuscule W/ Nellie on Goodreads.
Michelle Newby, for The Collagist.
Kirkus Reviews (May 2015).
Stuart Ross, for Necessary Fiction (October 2015).
John Venegas, for Angel City Review (February 2016).