The Celestial Jukebox

In an article on the writing of The Celestial Jukebox, author Cynthia Shearer says, “I’ve learned over my lifetime that when certain people say, ’You gotta hear this,’ it's best to hear it, whether it's Tibetan monks chanting, or Milton Brown and his Musical Brownies singing the vintage, original version of ’Keep On Truckin’’ in Texas .” Likewise goes the advice to read The Celestial Jukebox: a seamless fictional survey of America as it is lived and defined by the characters in a Mississippi Delta town, a novel which daughters call mothers about, nieces call aunts, friends call friends about, saying, “You gotta read this.”

At the same time as she defies stereotyping and sentimentality that are at risk for being overdone in the southern epic, Shearer develops the most usual of central characters—a creative genius who is homeless; a fifteen- year-old emigre who is consumed by a consumer America; a teacher who is a mouthpiece for suburban angst; a farmer who is rescuer of neighbors and friends; a hometown grocer who is at the epicenter of all, despite his loneliness and longing—in the most unusual of cleverly sutured subplots that build toward a relative close. The characters live within a few miles of each other, have little or a sketch in common, and yet exist as intimates in thought, passions, pastimes, attitudes, or actions and come together in the most common of human circumstances and ways.

And all—from the African American to the Mauritanian to the Chinese to the Caucasian, from the Sufi to the COGIC—are stitched to meet in places on the imaginary map that is Madagascar, Mississippi. They are brought together by objects that become commonalities: by a National Steel guitar, by bottle cap birdhouses built with busted-up books, by the Celestial Grocery, by jukeboxes and music, and by, in the end, mindsets that are America-influenced or lured.

So when someone says, “You gotta read The Celestial Jukebox,” read it for sure. Or, wait for the movie which should surely follow. For The Celestial Jukebox is Fried Green Tomatoes, Magnolia, and even a touch of Gone with the Wind in the making.