A fact-based historical novel set primarily in New York City in the 1920s and '30s and inspired by the decade-long relationship between the celebrated composer George Gershwin and Kay Swift, who was both his romantic partner and a gifted musician in her own right.
The novel flows as lyrically through Kaplan’s prose as the wail of the saxophones and crescendos of Gershwin’s keyboards. You can almost hear the taxi horns and clopping hooves of carriage horses in Central Park through his words as you imagine riding down Park Avenue past the towering edifices of lush mansions. As Kay becomes so absorbed in her performing as to be swept away from her audience, I read this book under that same captivation as minutes flowed into hours. Only my noisy team of hungry terriers could break my concentration.
The rarified world Swift inhabited provides rich raw material Kaplan uses to tell a complex and involving story ... In a biography, such luminaries could become footnotes. In Kaplan’s historical novel they turn into essential characters, often-fascinating friends and foils. While the plot about Swift’s divided romantic allegiance drives the book, it also allows Kaplan to examine all manner of interesting social and political complexities of 1920s and ‘30s America ... If Rhapsody has a flaw, it is that Swift gets to have her cake, and eat it, too, for too long ... she lives a life of abject luxury and few real problems ... It’s an interesting life, thankfully, but one lacking deep, plot-driving conflict. A little over halfway into the story, tensions finally heat up and provide more narrative thrust ... Rhapsody never proves less than engaging reading, however. Swift’s dialogue sings especially, capturing both her intellect and wit ... Mitchell James Kaplan’s prose luxuriates in depicting her surprising and wildly artistic world.
Kaplan delicately stitches together the notes of Gershwin and Swift’s nontraditional love song with the constant, glamorous hum of the Roaring Twenties playing in the background. Snappy dialogue and lush prose bring the Jazz Age to life as Kaplan takes readers from Harlem rent parties to the stage lights of Broadway ... Kaplan also uses the historical setting and characters to briefly explore conversations about topics that remain relevant today, particularly antisemitism and the appropriation of Black culture by white people for artistic gain. A sumptuous fictional account of a complex real-life romance, this book will stick in readers’ heads like the melody of a favorite ballad.