Written by Ella
While I was reading this book, there were times I had to hold my breath and force myself to turn the page. Near the end, I found myself sitting on the train with the book held up to my face, peeking through the spaces between my fingers, fearing the next sentence. “No Matter How Much you Promise to Cook or Pay the Rent You Blew is Cauze Bill Bailey Ain’t Never Coming Home Again,” by Edgardo Vega Yunqué, is as long as the title implies, and just as complex. But when you’re trying to describe the racial identity of a country like the United States, it will take a while… because it’s a bit scary.
Billy Farrell watched his best friend, Joey, die in the Vietnam war. He had held Joey in his arms as his insides poured out, but this wasn’t the first nor last death Farrell would have to endure. The brilliant jazz pianist was drafted to join the US Army at the very same time he was asked to join Miles Davis‘ band. While he believed that serving his country was the most noble thing he could do, he hid behind his patriotic courage instead of facing his truest fear- being himself. He was notably brilliant since he first touched the keyboard, impressing his piano teacher by playing, ‘Won’t you come home, Bill Bailey,” his favorite song.
While this is a fictional story, Edgardo Vega Yunqué provides a tale of New York City’s lower east side in the 1980s and early 90s by describing the beautiful in tragedies that make up our lives and the lives of those around us. Character flashbacks give the reader an insight to the generation changes in the world, especially concerning those of race, ethnicity and the resulting prejudices in American society. Loaded with musical references, the book guides us through the birth and creation of jazz music (and music in general) as America’s greatest contribution to the world. The book teaches us to be more appreciative and trusting of our selves, our lives and our art.
Filled with the life stories of a variety of characters, Yunqué bases the book around Vidamía Farrell, Billy’s estranged daughter. Vidamía, a Puerto Rican and Irish girl, is the daughter of rich entrepreneurs (her mother re-married) who refuses to let race and social strains get in the way of loving people as individuals. Determined, interllegent and kind-hearted, the young girl decides to find her father and grandfather, people her mother didn’t want her to associate with. Vidamía’s mother, Elsa, is ashamed of her past: growing up poor in New York City, getting pregnant early and having a dark-skinned father. She is now a rich psychologist with problems of her own. Still, everything that went wrong in her life helped her daughter understand that there are different people in the world who have different lifestyles and different priorities. While Vidamía is an only child on her mother’s side, her biological father is married with four children; Cookie, Cliff, Fawn and Caitlin, all of whom are musicians and look like pure-bred white folk, but talk like Puerto Ricans due to the influence of area they grew up in. The initial struggle is a financial burden and the family plays as a band in the NYC subways to pay their rent because Billy can’t get over the psychological guilt and pain of watching his friend die.
Hard times take a toll on everyone in the book -including Vidamía’s boyfriend, Wyndell. Wyndell was raised in the midwest to a Black family who never concerned themselves with race; his mother is an artist and his father is a doctor. Still, he struggles with accepting that his girlfriend is fair-skinned, now awakened to racial issues because he moved to New York to pursue a career in Jazz. Wyndell, like all of the other characters in the story, are forced to look passed their personal issues and accept their humanity -even if others won’t.
Poverty, rape, racism, murder – all of the things we fear as human beings – take place in this book. I must admit, I had put it down for a year or so, since it’s an intimidating 789 pages. After Vidamía meets her father, it feels like all is fine and dandy. But I recommend that when you think things are calming down, pick up the book again you’re guaranteed to be thrown for another loop. With theatrically ups and downs – both expected and impromptu – Yunqúe’s novel provides a tale to illustrate the good and evil in life, and how they make the world what it is – and make us who we are.
I guess you can tell I loved this book? If you’d like to purchase a copy, click here to buy on Amazon.
Read your books & keep your spirits fly,