Trumpet
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Reviewed by
Kay, Jackie. Trumpet. New York, NY: Vintage Contemporaries, 2000.

Jackie Kay's novel Trumpet is largely a retrospective of Joss Moody's life—that of a black, transgendered and transsexual jazz trumpeter who married a white woman with whom he adopted a son. The plot centers on the growing tension between Millie, Joss' widow, and Coleman, the adopted son. Coleman, angered by his discovery of his father's biological sex, threatens to sell Joss's story to a tabloid reporter. The story is told from various points of view, including those of Millie, Coleman, the doctor, the town registrar, the funeral director, Joss' mother, friends, and the tabloid reporter.

With the exception of the brief "Last Word" section which appears near the novel's end, Joss' silence might be viewed as problematic, as this is a tale which on one level speaks about the otherness of those who dare to live transgendered and transsexual lives: an otherness which has yet to find a proper and substantial home in the mainstream currents of literature and life. The presence of "otherness" is made clear in the novel when we see Joss living his life as both a transgendered man and transsexual: he physically represents himself as a man, breasts bandaged meticulous layer after meticulous layer underneath suits, starched shirts, and ties, as he lives his gendered life of masculinity—assuming a husband's role with Millie, a father's role with Coleman, and as a male trumpeter in his band.

Yet, his silence is replaced with his record of performance, a third-person narration of his solo jazz musician's virtuosity. We learn about Joss through those who knew him, a polyphonous telling of his genius and "blood dreaming." Rendered by way of each character's first-person recounting of individual grief and loss, the use of polyphony is an interesting authorial choice; one through which we do not live Joss' own telling of his own experience, but rather come to know him through others' tellings. On another level, this record of performance—Joss' life in, and as, music—creates the great mythos of Joss, and by extension, the great mythoi, which typically surrounds canonized jazz musicians. To the extent that Kay was inspired by the story of Billy Tipton (the infamous jazz pianist who lived her life as man and whose sex was only discovered after her death), the retrospective telling of Joss' life by those who witnessed and participated in it preserves the sanctity of his story—presented here as a fictive biography of psychic and physical vulnerabilities always threatened by public disclosure.

And perhaps this is a rationale for Kay: to tell this unfamiliar story in a "familiar" way such that Joss' ordinariness, rather than his otherness, is foregrounded. The political nature ofinterracial love, transgender and transsexual existence, and children adopted by people involved in such circumstances is not the meta-narrative here; the story instead generally focuses on the nuances of love, loss, and memory. The reader is drawn easily into the psychological spaces of characters close to Joss: to Millie, who misses him as any loving wife would miss her loving husband; to Big Red McCall, Joss' drummer who remembers his particular brand of verve; to Coleman, who struggles between the memory of his father's careful love and his own present angst over his discovery of Joss' biological sex; and to Edith Moore, Joss' mother, and her nostalgia for her dead son's youth. Millie states, "Loss isn't an absence after all. It is a presence" (12). And so Joss' story of his death and the loss that death brings to others is lived through in the present lives of those who survive him, privilegedover his own meditations of his past life. [End Page 691]

With respect to Joss' relationship with Millie, we witness an intricate portrait of their love wherein meditations on race, sex, sexuality, and partnership are presented more on the basis of normative ideas, rather than on conceptions of the marginal or fetishistic. Some of these meditations range from the ordinary to the more clearly political, as when Millie tells us that "Joss used to comb my...