Stephen Foster

If I were asked my favorite American songwriter, I would answer that it’s a draw between Bob Dylan and Steven Foster.

For those who haven’t heard of Stephen Foster, here is a taste from James Taylor, Yo Yo Ma, et al, that exhibits Mr. Foster’s sensibility.

One of my favorites is “Beautiful Dreamer”, which I so love, I used it as a sort of final theme in the Answer to EverythingThe link will take you to a list of songs from the final three books of the Hickey Family crime novels (also a stand alone epic crime and love story). Go to the end of the list and click the last song to hear Suzy Bogguss sing it beautifully.

In an email from Reedsy (which offers services to writers), I read a blurb about the recent book also called Beautiful Dreamer, and bought it right away (though I rarely buy brand new releases because they cost too much).

I don’t believe in critiquing published books. If I don’t like them, I give them to a thrift shop. If I find them too distressing to pass along, I may throw them away. I only review if I want to encourage people to read it.

So, here goes:

In Beautiful Dreamer, Sara Taylor not only gives us the story of a gifted artist working his way through a difficult life but she offers a remarkably convincing portrait of the author’s world, which was the eastern half of the U.S., both north and south, during the treacherous years leading up to the civil war. For this alone, the book is mighty valuable, especially since that age so resembles the one we live in, with political differences driving apart friends and families.

Aside from the background, what most engaged me was the fate of Mr. Foster’s courtship and marriage. Here is a capsule version (a spoiler, so stop here if you have already decided to read the book): a lovely woman accepts the hand of an artist, though he can’t promise her prosperity. But when times get hard, he senses her discouragement and retreats to the lonely part of himself, in part to devote himself to his art, and in part to get away from her attitude.  His withdrawal sends her into darker discouragement, from which his only defense is to retreat even farther away, by solitude or with the help of liquor.

If you have any fondness for Stephen Foster’s music or for U.S. history, you should for sure read Beautiful Dreamer.


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