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  • Pulsing with Music
  • Bryon Dickon (bio)
Alex Poppe
Tortoise Books
240 Pages, Print, $16.00

Alex Poppe's debut novel, Moxie, is part dog story, part cultural criticism, and part portrait of New York City. The novel is a multisensory experience capturing the sights, the smells, and the sounds of the city. Whether it is a panhandler leaning against the wall with a guitar or an African drum ensemble striking up in the park, the pages of Moxie are pulsing with the rhythm of music. It is a music that fittingly accompanies the rich cityscapes, snappy dialogue, and multicultural characters. Moxie is a novel that reminds readers that music, dance, and community can invoke a kind of healing power, even against a haunted past and an uncertain future.

The protagonist of Moxie, Jax (or Jacinda Lewis), is a former cover model, half of whose face has been disfigured in a motorcycle bombing in Marrakesh. Having lost the only livelihood she knows, Jax turns to alcohol and sex as she struggles to make sense of life after her former success. Jax offers Moxie a bold and gritty voice that fixes her unforgiving gaze on the violence and oppression faced by women, transgender people, and immigrants. Her voice is at times a rhythmic staccato and, at others, a crescendo of self-awareness, adding to the flowing soundscape of the novel. It is a voice that begs to be read out loud, every shout, whisper, and exclamation in equal measure.

Through Jax's voice, the reader is transported through sometimes dissonant descriptions such as this one which portrays the scene of her accident in Marrakesh, "Everything quiets to a vibration as a motorcycle pauses down the lane. The vibration grows to a rumble to a thunder to silence as the motorcycle cartwheels apart." Descriptions such as this one bring the reader just short of an emotional connection with Jax and the places she has been. In this novel, reading is hearing, and hearing is listening. Moxie is remarkable in its ways of telling, especially of conveying emotion through descriptions of sound, giving it a place among novels that are just as much experienced as read.

In Moxie, sounds and motion blend with colors as "trumpets beseech in indigo" and "music slows to silver before the bongos kick in a stealthy underbeat." Motion too takes on colors as well, as Jax dances to the music on the street: "My hips gyrate in magenta, my torso undulates in red and orange flames, my arms float up in a peach-pink cloud of a piano interlude." When Jax dances, she becomes instinctual and deliberate, both within and outside her body, her contradictions and rough edges being resolved in a flourish of color. Jax's dancing becomes a metaphor for the reclamation of her body. Through music and dance, Jax, who describes herself as "half-dark, half-light: two-faced

when turned-cheek" is able to become whole again. Jax finds moments of healing in which her emotional turmoil, if only briefly, melts away in a euphoria of sounds and colors. In Moxie, music is an expression of community. It may be that dance, music, and community is the meaning that Jax seeks in her new life, but more than that they are opportunities to heal from her not-so-distant past.

Jax has another musical connection with a panhandler with her guitar on the street,

a young woman—half-busker, half-panhandler—screeches some vintage PJ Harvey in front of the fountain at One Worldwide Plaza. Eroticism and restraint, ethereality and brutality careen from the guitar chords. She wails of sex and death and pain until the weight of the songs threatens to crush her.

Like the music in this paragraph, "erotic and restrained," "ethereal and brutal," Jax is a character full of contradictions that make her, in her own words, "singular." The fact that this silent (?) encounter closes out a section of the book punctuates the scene with a poignant and symphonic significance. The conversation between the women is wordless, but Jax is able to see the woman's "child self, singing, euphoric." This scene occurs in...