From the Association for Mormon Letters
Specific music speaks to specific souls, touching the very core of us. For some it is a classical masterpiece, for others it is an acoustical ballad, for thirteen year old Shake Tauffler, it is jazz. In Max Zimmer’s vintage coming of age saga, “Journey,” Shake doesn’t know the music yet by name. He does know that the rhythm and pulse of this music pull at his spirit, from the reeds of saxes and clarinets and the bell mouths of brass horns. Shake has a musical bits-and-pieces vocabulary, and nearly misses forming a framework to describe to the local music store owner, this “sheepherder music” he heard on the truck radio. No matter. His new music store owner friend/musician recognizes the shy passion of the young musician in Shake and guides him, not only to what Shake’s music is, but to what “his” instrument is and eventually to a jazz master teacher.
Shake’s discovery of jazz, which pierces and moves him, is of course just the journey’s beginning, as he begins a journey of thought: of how his parents’ religion, for which they left behind the land of their fathers in Switzerland for the Promised Land of 1950’s Utah, impacts his own life. He listens to the questioning of his gospel peers. He listens to his parents’ doctrinal interpretations (or silence.) He listens to the vinyl gold loaned to him by his musician mentor. He listens to his laymen teachers explain (or not) the black and white 1950’s gospel plan. He listens to what others describe as the Spirit. He listens to a fellow student’s violin at the school concert, and feels the movement of the Spirit, within her music. Through all of his listening, Shake begins to sort out fact from fiction, while experiencing the complexity of his Swiss immigrant parental dynamics, examining familial and societal prejudices, doctrinal explanations within the context of his sexual awareness and, foremost, his growing musicality as he struggles to find a place in his new Utah homeland.
That Zimmer has tackled Shake’s journey as a trilogy is commendable. He has captured the nuances of not only the essence of jazz, which becomes central to Shake’s inner life, but also the era of the fifties from the perspective of a young boy thrust into a religious community during an era of societal change throughout America. Zimmer treats Shake’s religious education as a possibility, given the 50’s climate, the factor of layman human error, and the understanding of a pre-pubescent mind. This is not a novel for those who are offended by curious sexual chatter amongst boys, tales of profane bravado, or private and public questioning of the Sunday School teacher.
This is a novel for those who appreciate a lyrical quest for truth, a story filled with images and sounds, and a boy who longs for the world of Miles Davis. Michael Strong has labeled “Journey,” the first volume of Max Zimmer’s trilogy, “If Where You’re Going Isn’t Home,” as “The Great American Mormon Novel.” While that remains to be seen in the next two volumes, the first leg of the journey is certainly one version of a Mormon boy who would be jazz king.
– Dana Bishop Smith for the Association for Mormon Letters