Bailey’s Café is the story of a magical place and of the lost souls who have there found, if not redemption, at least a safe haven. As the chapter and section titles suggest, Naylor structures her novel in the form of a jazz performance. The book begins with “Maestro, If You Please,” in which Bailey, as the bandleader, introduces himself; this is followed by “The Vamp,” Bailey’s introduction to his café. The main part of the book is entitled “The Jam,” and Bailey’s Café ends with a short, upbeat chapter appropriately called “The Wrap.”
The novel begins with a first-person narrative by the man whom everyone calls Bailey, after the name of his place of business. Even though Bailey never does mention his real name, he does not omit anything else from his life story. He describes his childhood as the child of African Americans who were the servants of wealthy African Americans, his successful courtship of the beautiful Nadine, his failure in several jobs, and his participation in World War II. What brought Bailey to despair, ironically, was the event that assured him of surviving that war: the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Devastated by guilt, Bailey ended up on the wharf in San Francisco, then inexplicably found himself working in a rundown café with Nadine beside him.
As Bailey hastens to point out, his café does not have a geographical location. It moves about, appearing wherever and whenever someone is “hanging on to the edge” and needs a place “to take a breather for a while.” In his second chapter, “The Vamp,” Bailey introduces two “one-note players” who are not ready to look beneath the surfaces of their lives. Thus Sister Carrie, a religious fanatic, pretends to be highly moral, and Sugar Man, a pimp, pretends to be a benefactor of women; actually, both are interested only in controlling others. Although these are only “minor voices,” in Bailey’s words, they...
(The entire section is 802 words.)