Sweet, Soft, Plenty Rhythm by Laura Warrell is a literary fiction novel that introduces us to a womanizing jazz musician and the females who cross his path, including his daughter. 

It’s 2013, and Circus Palmer is a 40-year-old trumpet player who takes gigs across the country but doesn’t like to plant roots anywhere. In the first few pages, he learns that Maggie, the woman who enthralls him, is pregnant. He tries to convince her to end the pregnancy; he can’t be rooted down to anything. And she shouldn’t root herself down since she’s a drummer. A child can’t fit into their musician-touring life. Maggie says she wants the baby, and she returns to drumming while Circus heads home to Boston. We meet his 14-year-old daughter Koko who’s trying to navigate high school and control her fluctuating hormones. With Circus back in the picture, Koko still harbors the emptiness she felt for years living without him and living with her regretful, depressed  mother, Circus’ ex-wife Pia.

While Koko and Pia are constants in Circus’ life, the jazzman finds himself constantly attracted to other women. He falls for a twenty-something waitress at a bar where he plays for gigs, for a mysterious woman on the train, for a woman who will do anything for him when he visits her in nearby Providence, Rhode Island. He comes across a woman he wanted to marry years ago while he witnesses the decline of the woman he did marry by the weight of taking care of their daughter and desiring love from him. All these women still don’t make up for losing Maggie and the child she may be carrying. As he wonders about that child, he realizes the need to focus on Koko as his daughter falls for boys who remind him of himself. Though his dream of recording an album still lingers in the background, his womanizing cripples his ability to assume the fame he swears he can taste. 

Unpeeling the layers of the womanizer and the women hurt by the actions make for an absorbing story. It switches between perspectives with the trail of women Circus leaves in his wake. Even meeting the women who spend one night with him show how his carelessness can feel magnitudinous to the women he hurts. Koko detects the pain he is causing other women because her mother lives with the pain on a deeper level. So, the added thread of a teenage daughter hungry for love seeing her father also hungry for love gives the story more depth. And Circus, of course, doesn’t put two and two together about how his actions affect Koko or his career. He thinks his womanizing helps him stay away as a father in case he messes up parenthood and helps him stay creative with his music when a muse disappears. Yet, the dependence on women derails his future, as he lives in a pattern of unfulfilled opportunities.

Overall, the book introduces characters who are intriguing as they sift through their emotions after welcoming Circus or re-welcoming him into their lives. Watching the characters come into their feelings on the pages make the story memorable as if you know the characters. The smoothness of the details about their everyday lives also hops off the page.