The Final Revival Of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton
One infamous photo of someone can define all public perception of them. Sad-but-true reality. In this oral history-themed fiction novel about a 1970's interracial singer/songwriter duo, Opal & Nev, THE photo for them sees Opal being carried on Nev's back. Both of them appear bloody and sweaty from the aftermath of a big gig in NYC turned riot, where a Black man, their drummer, Jimmy Curtis III was beaten to death.
The resulting photo was the only visual record to survive the riot and decades of debate grinded the wheels of civil & racial unrest in America. Like the many other iconic photos taken in the civil rights era, it is a stark reminder of where we're at and where we're headed.
The duo: Nev, a White guy songwriter from Birmingham, U.K. and Opal, a Black female singer from Detroit U.S.A. make the unlikeliest of teams. But the two misfits hit it off, cut a record together with some studio session players and live the rockstar life.
This novel is told in the oral history form, with the music journalist/magazine editor, S. Sunny Shelton as the first person narrator. Oh yeah, and drummer Jimmy Curtis III was her father. (No spoilers, it's on the first couple of pages!) So, the historical relevance holds deeper meaning as she tracks down the many studio execs, producers, and other rockstar performers to tell their side of the story of Opal & Nev.
When I read to the infamous event and the taking of the picture that skyrockets the Duo's career for all of the right and wrong reasons, the 100+ pages flew by. I found that the style of storytelling that author Dawnie Walton chose was best at capturing the chaos and detail of different perspectives on a theme. Ta-Nehisi Coates' "immersion" blurb on the cover of my copy of the book wasn't mere hyperbole.
I put this book at the top of my list this year because it's about what I love most: music. The backdrop and the sounds of the era are spot-on as Walton is an industry insider, and I love that this fiction was weaved in with real-life luminaries of the music, art, and fashion world. Also, the main character Opal, as a resilient, strong, Black Woman, is a force of nature and will not let a single photograph define her.
Top shelf! -FL