True love is sometimes song and sometimes magic. In Flowers's second novel it is usually both, and a struggle as well. Lucas Bodeen, a traveling, often trifling Delta bluesman, plays piano. Conjure woman Melvira Dupree heals with roots and herbs. When they meet in Sweetwater, Ark., in 1918, Lucas dreams of composing an "immortal" blues to seal his musical legacy. Melvira is anxious to find the mother who abandoned her as a youngster and to learn why she left. Together they head for Memphis's teeming Beale Street—a wellspring of blues, a new music then called jass, hoodoo doctors and charlatans—a place that puts their fragile relationship to the test.
Ambitious and entertaining, Good Loving Blues explores the links between cultural heritage and racial consciousness. Told as a fable, it skillfully blends a wealth of African and African-American oral traditions (the text is chock-full of parables, folktales and toasts) with an engaging, uncluttered prose style. But Flowers's larger themes—the dues that precede artistic growth and the redemptive power of love—while keenly developed, too often burden his characters with more meaning than they can carry. Plot twists lead to colorful scenes that nonetheless do not reveal much about two interesting people who are easy to like. Still, Flowers, founder of the New Renaissance Writer's Guild in Harlem, has told an infectious fable. (Viking, $20)