Lani Hall Alpert
Emotional Memoirs And Short Stories
published: 24 /
In her 'Raging Pages' book column Lisa Torem finds jazz singer and musician Lani Hall Alpert distilling hard-scrabble Chicago life, debilitating illness, crummy therapists, disoriented hitchhikers and more in her first book 'Emotional Memoirs and Short Stories'.
“I’d come home to a rush of radiator heat and wait for my fingers and face to thaw so that I could sing. I was a closet singer back then.” The prelude to 'Come Rain or Come Shine', singer Lani Hall Alpert’s first story in 'Emotional Memoirs', where a harsh Chicago winter and the city’s encapsulating light reveal as much about the then-teen singer as her fragile, self-conscious state, is magical and especially poignant. The reader will immediately connect, as each of the following ten stories are also prefaced with such a truth. And as for the ten, some are based on Lani’s astoundingly vivid and frank observations and others from her on-the-ledge imagination.
But perhaps, 'Come Rain or Come Shine', is the most wrenching. Here, Lani waltzes back to her confusing childhood in Chicago’s working-class, late 1950’s Albany Park neighborhood and lingers on her relationship with Jackie, the older woman for whom she babysits, and at first, worships.
“Every other word that came out of her mouth was slang,” is how the author describes Jackie’s verbal expression. And she vividly backs up her claim that “Jackie was cool.” Instead of writing air mail on an envelope to her lover, she’d write “Fly it.” As a curious, thirteen-year-old bystander, Lani, too, stands in awe of Jackie’s pre-work routine. “She would outline her dark eyes with sweeping strokes of black pencil” and “tease her jet-black hair until it bubbled out.”
As the story progresses, Lani is forced to face sobering adult issues. Heroin addicts make themselves at home in Jackie’s living room, remaining oddly out-of-view of Lani’s mother and father, despite the fact that the two families shared the same back porch. Still, Lani describes Jackie’s apartment as her “sanctuary” because “There were nightly fights at my house about money or school or things I didn’t understand.”
This visceral story doesn’t end where one might think it would — Lani adds a twist in the form of a fascinating epilogue, where, again, she reveals much about her own character and remarkable sense of loyalty.
Other stories, such as ‘Mr. Belmont,’ are set in a bustling train station, where Sarah, the flirty protagonist, fantasises about a handsome, blonde businessman she encounters during the work week: “His long legs moved like slow music,” she muses. Despite being married, Sarah refuses to leave well enough alone—she pursues the stranger and soon finds herself spinning out ofcontrol. After this rendering of ‘Mr. Belmont,’ Lani speaks directly to the reader, again, but this time, she describes a uniquely Chicago-based experience, riding the train to the end of the line, just to take in the experience.
As that antiquated train lurched forward and back, it stopped just long enough for Lani to spot, “sun-dried clothes suspended from laundry lines…” or “mothers sitting on stoops, wiping clean their children’s sticky fingers.” Lani plays giftedly with time, first whisking us by virtue of female fantasy and then grounding us, amid the clatter of a heaving, elevated vehicle.
‘The Ringing Bells,’ in contrast, takes place past the Pacific Coast Highway. Eve leaves home, fattens up the gas tank, bends to Conway Twitty, and against her better judgment, picks up a hitchhiker, Angie. The two women develop an easy-going rapport, but just as quickly, they’re forced to contend with harrowing calamity. Expertly, Lani steers the reader through a series of suspenseful events; the ending is an absolute shocker.
The themes in ‘Emotional Memoirs and Short Stories’ are plentiful. Lani deftly juggles a variety of tough topics: suicide, genocide, horrific therapists and the onset of a debilitating disease. And, as implied earlier, her personal insights serve as a bridge to connect both fictional and nonfictional accounts.
As a bonus, the book has a soul mate. An accompanying CD features Lani’s spoken-word version of each story along with musical embellishments. The compelling trumpet arrangements by her husband, Herb Alpert, appear to be multi-purpose, serving as passionate punctuation and divine counterpoint to Lani’s heartfelt, female-driven, confessionals.
Grammy-winning Lani Hall’s musical legacy includes being lead singer with Sergio Mendes’ Brasil ’66 as well as the recording of twelve solo albums in three, different languages. 'Emotional Memoirs and Short Stories' reflects a unique side to her distinctive personality and is a result of a 30-year, introspective journey. Set aside time for this gem. Honestly, you won’t put this one down.