Riversbend Jazz, for saxophone, bass fiddle, and claw hammer, is a seven-part novel, set in Riversbend in 2020, revisiting the McBee and Madsen families, as they live and love and fight their way through that history-making year.

It’s been sixteen years since these folks came together for Tom McBee’s funeral, as chronicled in Riversbend Elegy. Some of them still make their homes in the heartland. Others have scattered to the coasts, settling in New York City, Jacksonville, Florida, and Portland, Oregon.

The saga begins in Riversbend in late April, when covid-19 touches the family. It’s the first case to hit the local county hospital. Folks are shocked to think this strange new virus might have made its way to Riversbend, and there’s some dispute about that.

As Spring rolls into Summer, folks find that it’s hard to see eye-to-eye when it’s impossible to share direct eye contact. By July, living in lockdown has become a weary habit. Normal rhythms are lost, and in the chaos of the times, folks must improvise to cope with their lives. By the end of August, some are fighting solitary battles, while others are finding the saving grace of sharing simple things with one another, even if that’s done online.

Autumn finds folks settling into a routine of isolation as a part of pandemic life, but when the election comes in November, there’s nothing routine about voting in America in 2020. Family life is just as fraught as the fever-pitch of national news. The pandemic is taking a toll on the health of some folks, and politics is roiling other folks.

A Christmas tragedy brings the families home to Riversbend. This is a holiday season like none other they’ve known. The final part of the novel finds these folks bracing for the new year. As 2020 bleeds into January, they find they have been forever changed by the extraordinary year they’ve endured. That is not an altogether good thing.






Scroll to Top