It’s a rare feat of literary prowess not only to create an unappealing character who is completely sympathetic, but also for a woman to write a believable man in the first person. Silber achieves both of these extraordinary results in Early Bright.
Set in post-World War II Los Angeles, the anti-hero Louis Greenberg is a very talented jazz pianist who makes his living as a con artist, preying on the vulnerabilities of war widows and mothers who have lost their sons. Furthermore, he avoided going to war by stealing someone else’s 4-F papers, and as a result gained the censure of his father in New York—a fact that pursues him relentlessly as he tries to redeem himself through his music.
As a Jew, Greenberg is an outsider—even more so because the music he plays is most at home in the black jazz clubs in a very segregated world. Yet he has friends and people who believe in him, not the least of whom is a beautiful black woman with whom he has a passionate relationship.
Silber writes magnificently about music, about the feeling of performing jazz. She immerses us in the sordid, shallow world of the movie industry and reveals without sentiment and without cliché the racism that underlies life during this time. Most of all, the ultimate tragedy of Greenberg’s life hits the reader like a punch in the gut.
Early Bright beguiles with its mastery of language and drama and is highly recommended.