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Record Palace

"Record Palace is an astonishment. Susan Wheeler's deft touch and flawless ear have produced an irresistable work, both fresh and sage." - Toni Morrison


Cindy acquired her love for jazz from her long-gone clarinetist father, a taste for drink from her unloving mother, and a yen for Chicago from a painter. So Chicago is her destination when she decides to study art history, but the most crucial aspect of her education occurs in the Record Palace, a tiny, jam-packed repository for great jazz. Acie, an enormous man with a glass eye, reigns over his cramped and unsanitary jazz kingdom with the cool and irony of a man who has seen it all, and learned to get by with very little, finding all the majesty he needs in music. The two misfit jazz aficionados forge a curious alliance that is complicated by a risky family enterprise and Cindy's involvement with Acie's son. Adeptly narrated in three distinct voices, poet Wheeler's seductively atmospheric first novel traces a nervy young woman's odyssey to selfhood, evokes acute loneliness, measures out noirish suspense, interjects sly humor, and pays unabashed tribute to Chicago circa 1980, out-there jazz, and the compelling music of language. - Donna Seaman
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"In hazed heat, mid-September, walking north from Chicago’s Loop, telling myself I was exploring the new life, I dogged as much for tonic, gin. A sign swung beside a basement door, in, out, mirage: RECORD PALACE: J ZZ. Inside I found Acie."

Cindy, a lean, lonely white girl, has come to Chicago to study art history—to be anywhere but where she came from—tract housing in Thousand Oaks, California, mock-stucco buildings, “a tetherball hole in the ten-foot driveway…incessant sun and incessant sunniness of every blonde girl.”

The Record Palace, littered with cans of malt liquor and remnants of past meals, also has boxes upon boxes of records—all jazz. And it has Acie, “big on all sides, top included. A hairnet, the hair below the net long and limp with oil. Green stretch pants, flip-flops, a think black U-tank taut across Sumo folds. Maybe a hundred bins were blocked by the wall of him.” Cindy knows she doesn’t belong, and this is why she stays.

Cindy’s determination leads to a tentative friendship with Acie and she becomes a familiar, if not fully understood, presence in the store. But it is through her chance meeting with Acie’s “offspring” that she becomes embroiled in an unusual crime.

With prose that resembles the syncopated rhythms of jazz, Wheeler offers a stunning portrait of a women searching for an identity in a city on the cusp of social and political change.

"An exquisitely crafted recollection of music, at a pivotal time for both jazz and Chicago." - Steve Martin

"Dialogic, atmospheric, a situation plumbed rather than a plot unfolded - a Chicago noir this is and it casts its spell. - E.L. Doctorow