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Tonight at Noon: A Love Story by Sue Graham Mingus

Charles Mingus was in many ways bigger than life, so his fate at the hands of a degenerative illness seemed particularly cruel. His descent was both rapid and terrifying. Immobilized and confined to a wheelchair or bed, he died in 1979, less than 14 months after being diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease. This book, named for the topsy-turvy schedule of the working musician, is the autobiographical story of his widow Sue Graham Mingus and their life together. The subtitle should signal readers hoping to learn about Mingus’ music to look elsewhere-the fine biographies by Brian Priestley or Gene Santoro, for instance. There is much to enjoy about this book, however.

In sharp contrast to Mingus’ hardscrabble background, Sue Graham came from a well-to-do family, not without its own dysfunction and tragedy-a brilliant but inscrutable father, and a mother who died when Graham was at college. Graham’s nonconformist career path (theater, film and journalism, all of the countercultural variety) eventually brought her into contact with the famed jazz musician, who had already been married a few times when they met. Graham deftly illustrates the contrast between the seemingly mismatched pair by describing a visit to a fortuneteller. “Your natures are both very strong,” she told them. “You could have an extraordinary relationship if you used it properly. Or else it could be destructive.” The early stages of their relationship do seem more like sparring than courtship, and Graham makes their coupling seem both improbable and inevitable.

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