Passion and risk, fathers and daughters, wives and single women, jazz and soul: a provocative debut novel about the perennial temptations of dangerous love, told by the women who love Circus Palmer—trumpet player and old-school ladies’ man—as they ultimately discover the power of their own voices.
“In an exceptional debut, Warrell turns love, or at least the love life of musician Circus Palmer, into the proverbial jazz club: dark and sexy, freeing and frightening, ecstatic and lonely.... A modern masterpiece.” —Jason Reynolds, best-selling author of Look Both Ways
It’s 2013, and Circus Palmer, a forty-year-old Boston-based trumpet player and old-school ladies’ man, lives for his music and refuses to be tied down. Before a gig in Miami, he learns that the woman who is secretly closest to his heart, the free-spirited drummer Maggie, is pregnant by him. Instead of facing the necessary conversation, Circus flees, setting off a chain of interlocking revelations from the various women in his life. Most notable among them is his teenage daughter, Koko, who idolizes him and is awakening to her own sexuality even as her mentally fragile mother struggles to overcome her rejection by Circus.
Delivering a lush orchestration of diverse female voices, Warrell has penned a provocative and gripping novel about the perennial dangers of desire and the answer to the age-old question: How do we find belonging when love is unrequited?
About the Author
LAURA WARRELL is a contributor to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and the Tin House Summer Workshop, and is a graduate of the creative writing program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her work has appeared in HuffPost, The Rumpus, and the Los Angeles Review of Books, among other publications. She has taught creative writing and literature at the Berklee College of Music in Boston and through the Emerging Voices Fellowship at PEN America in Los Angeles, where she lives.
“Told in a rich array of voices, this gorgeously written debut explores the myriad syncopations of love and desire. Laura Warrell writes with an enormous understanding of human nature, a boundless sympathy for life’s complications, and a keen eye for life’s unexpected joys.” —Celeste Ng, author of Little Fires Everywhere
“Beautifully and cleverly written, Laura Warrell’s Sweet, Soft, Plenty Rhythm is a stunner. The novel’s tender, sensual, enchanting prose entices you into a world of deep longing and so much heartache. Still, I didn’t want to leave it. A truly mesmerizing debut!” —Deesha Philyaw, author of The Secret Lives of Church Ladies
“The most memorable novels of my life are boiling over with insatiably written secondary characters that crave their own books. The same can be said about our most jamming jazz quartets. This peculiar cacophony is exactly what we see in at least five characters in Sweet, Soft, Plenty Rhythm. Koko, for example, is a once in lifetime, once in a galaxy character. Laura Warrell has crafted a world within the world with the achy mystery, wonder and subtexual bounce of the greatest jazz. Sweet, Soft, Plenty Rhythm is a soulful, fleshy and absolutely stunning debut. Warrell will re-teach us how to wail, pause and reckon. I am thankful.” —Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy
“In an exceptional debut, Warrell turns love, or at least the love life of musician Circus Palmer into the proverbial jazz club: dark and sexy, freeing and frightening, ecstatic and lonely. This story is an example of how love, in all of its polyrhythms, can sometimes sound like song, and other times like noise. And this book is an example of how a great story can become a bass drum, kicking and thumping in your belly far after it’s over. A modern masterpiece.” —Jason Reynolds, author of Look Both Ways
“Sweet, Soft, Plenty Rhythm is a sultry and subversive debut. Laura Warrell’s prose sparkles, but it’s what she’s got to say about sex and love and being a woman that will take your breath away. This book is a love song, and Warrell knows how to hold all the right notes.” —Rachel Beanland, author of Florence Adler Swims Forever
“Lyrical, sweeping, and life affirming, Sweet, Soft, Plenty Rhythm is an astonishing debut that wraps you in the passionate pulse of its characters and their world, and doesn't let go until its pitch perfect final note.” —Liska Jacobs, author of Catalina and The Pink Hotel
“Sweet, Soft, Plenty Rhythm kept me turning the pages to see what shenanigans the titular jazz musician pulled next, while also waiting to cheer the moment when the women in his life finally blocked his number. Laura Warrell has cooked up one of the most compelling, entertaining, and heartfelt reads in recent memory.” —Chris Terry, author of Black Card
In Sweet, Soft, Plenty Rhythm, we meet trumpet player Circus Palmer, as problematic as he is enigmatic, as irresistible as your favorite song, and the women whom he seeks out, and walks away from, are just as compelling. Laura Warrell writes with such assurance and grace—her sentences sing—and she has created a world I didn’t want to leave: it’s sexy and profound, painful and joyful. A remarkable, unforgettable debut.” —Edan Lepucki, author of California and Woman No. 17
“A book about desire and about love, about where these emotions meet and part and sometimes interlace in inescapable ways. But it is about so much more: these characters, for instance, painted by Warrell’s uniquely masterful brush so that even in small moments they seem entirely whole, entirely alive. Sentence by sentence, this is a novel showing its author at the top of her game—a classic in the making.” —Brian Castleberry, author of Nine Shiny Objects
"Soulful and gripping . . . In her debut novel, Warrell assembles a lush orchestra of female voices to sing a story about passion and risk, fathers and daughters and the missed opportunities of unrequited love." —The Millions
“‘Jazz music is to be played sweet, soft, plenty rhythm,’ proclaimed Jelly Roll Morton, and Warrell plays her exceptional first novel with plenty of rhythm and tenderness, delivered in brisk, mordantly gorgeous language that has its own natural flow. Each woman has her own life, her own story . . . and as in any good jazz piece these stories play off one another seamlessly. A highly recommended story of love and life that makes beautiful music.”—Library Journal (starred review)
“An impressive debut novel weaves storylines of lost love, coming-of-age, and midlife crisis . . . Warrell displays delicately wrought characterization and a formidable command of physical and emotional detail. Her more intimate set pieces deliver sensual, erotic vibrations . . . she knows how to write about the way it feels to deliver jazz—and receive it. A captivating modern romance evoking love, loss, recovery, and redemption.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"Warrell unfurls in her engaging debut the story of a peripatetic trumpet player. . . [She] evocatively describes the women who inspire Circus’s music and his lust . . . and finds the sadness deep in his heart. Warrell hits all the right notes." —Publishers Weekly