In The Fisher King, eight-year-old Sonny Payne arrives in the United States with Hattie Carmichael, an American expatriate who has cared for him in Paris since his birth, when his parents disappeared. Hattie, once a scorned foster child, grudgingly returns to Brooklyn in response to a letter from Edgar Payne, a wealthy real estate developer and brother of the great jazz pianist Sonny-Rett Payne, Sonny’s grandfather Edgar has asked her to bring the boy for a memorial concert that will honor Sonny-Rett on the fifteenth anniversary of his death in Paris, when he was detained in a Metro station by suspicious police. Apparently he argued with them and tried to leave, fell or was pushed down the stone steps, hit his head, and died.
Honoring the wishes of Sonny’s deceased grandparents, Hattie has refused all previous contact with his American family, so the boy must become acquainted with his personal history. His ancient great-grandmothers, who live across the street from each other but never speak, embody the ongoing resentment between West Indian immigrants and African Americans. Sonny-Rett’s mother, Ulene Payne, an unkempt and angry woman with Parkinson’s disease, encouraged her talented son to study European classical music but barred him from her home when he turned to American jazz, that “Sodom and Gomorrah music.” Sonny is a little afraid of her but thrilled by the player piano that she allows him to touch.
(The entire section is 511 words.)