(Editor's Note: Welcome to our new guest blogger, Lydia Valdés! So excited to have her on board!)
As Donoghue’s follow-up novel to her wildly successful and imaginative ROOM, I welcomed the opportunity to reunite with this author. What I found was a story I wanted to devour but had to trudge through, at times. Donoghue uses a historical fiction format to infuse suppositions and create a narrative frame for the research she gathered about a real-life, unsolved murder.
FROG MUSIC takes place in San Francisco, summer of 1876. Jenny and Blanche quickly strike up an unexpected friendship, and Jenny’s murder soon after they meet leaves Blanche wanting answers. Blanche sets out to find Jenny’s killer, and we continue learning about Jenny (and Blanche herself) through Blanche’s investigation. Jenny, a professional frog catcher, sold frog legs to local restaurants. Her methods and ethics were questionable, and her penchant for cross-dressing was off-putting to many at a time when cross-dressing was illegal in San Francisco.
Blanche is a burlesque dancer and prostitute with complicated relationships. Her profession and network allows her to ask some questions that others might not in her quest to solve the murder. Blanche also has cause to examine her own choices as she looks into who would want Jenny dead.
The story weaves music throughout and touches on various social taboos, many of which remain controversial today. It is a story of friendship, love, motherhood, and the dance between the personal and societal definitions of what it means to be a woman.
BOTTOM LINE: Recommended with Reservations. The story itself is compelling, but the delivery is convoluted and did not hold my interest fluidly. Various plotlines and too many characters with non-distinctive traits run together leaving the reader flipping back and forth between pages to remember who’s who.