Coming Through Slaughter

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This article is about the Michael Ondaatje novel. For the Dave Kisik album, see Coming Through Slaughter: The Bolden Legend.
Coming Through Slaughter
First edition
Author Michael Ondaatje
Cover artist Coach House Press (design)
Country Canada
Language English
Genre Historical, Biographical novel
Publisher House of Anansi
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 159 pp
ISBN 0-88784-051-5
OCLC 256760805
Preceded by Rat Jelly
Followed by Elimination Dance

Coming Through Slaughter is a novel by Michael Ondaatje, published by House of Anansi in 1976. It was the winner of the 1976 Books in Canada First Novel Award.

The novel is a fictionalised version of the life of the New Orleans jazz pioneer Buddy Bolden. It covers the last months of Bolden's sanity in 1907, as his music becomes more radical and his behaviour more erratic. A secondary character in the story is the photographer E. J. Bellocq. Both these historical figures are portrayed in ways that draw on their actual lives, but which depart from the facts in order to explore the novel's central theme – the relationship between creativity and self-destruction.

The novel draws on the style of jazz, being structured in a fragmented, and "syncopated" form, with episodes extending in elongated "riffs" before suddenly lurching unpredictably into an apparently unrelated scene. The structure also conveys Bolden's own wild, fragmenting personality, as his schizophrenia takes hold. Bolden's manic, extroverted but self-harming behaviour is set against the introverted figure of Bellocq, who expresses his own frustrated desires in his intimate erotic photographs, but then compusively violates them with scratches.


  • Buddy Bolden - a barber, publisher of The Cricket, a cornet player, good husband and father, and an infamous man around town; best, loved, and loudest jazzman of his time; never professional in the brain
  • Bricktop Jackson - prostitute who carried a 15 inch knife and her lover was John Miller who had no left arm and wore a chain with an iron ball on the end to replace it; she killed him on December 7, 1861
  • One-legged Duffy - born Mary Rich, was stabbed by her boyfriend and had her head beaten in with her own wooden leg
  • Tom Anderson - “The King of the District;” every year he published a blue book of every whore in New Orleans; closest thing to a patron Buddy Bolden ever had; would give him money for the family and for sending him two bottles of whiskey every day
  • Dago Tony - at the height of Bolden’s popularity, sponsored him as well sending him Raleigh Rye and wine
  • Nora Bass - Buddy’s wife; a former prostitute
  • Mrs. Bass - after Mr. Bass’ death all her daughters went into the red light district; she had a pet python she bought from a zoo; one night she went for a drive and never came back; Buddy and Nora found her car on a walk and Mrs. Bass had been strangled; they drove the car with her dead body in it to Webb; the car and body was stolen and Webb came up with the idea that the python strangled Mrs. Bass
  • Webb - a police detective; friend of Buddy; Nora does not know him and says she will not hire him to find Buddy; Webb does not want her money because he just wants to find Buddy who he says will not last by himself he and Buddy got to know each other when they worked in funfairs along the coast; Webb was twenty and Buddy was seventeen; they lived together for two years
  • Crawley - another cornet player; says the last time he saw Bolden was on a boat; says Bolden was supposed to stay with the Brewitts
  • Jaelin Brewitt - a pianist
  • Robin Brewitt - Buddy has an affair with her; she was a part of the Shell Beach music world
  • Frank Lewis - was at the first parade Bolden played at; he was playing too; Buddy would jump out of crowd and start playing then disappear in and then a little farther down the route he would jump out again then disappear
  • Freddie Keppard - cornet player who came after Buddy; closest to Buddy in volume; audiences of his in front row would move back rows
  • Jimmy Johnson - bass, part of Bolden’s band
  • Brock Mumford - guitar, part of Bolden’s band
  • Willy Cornish - valve trombone, part of Bolden’s band; only photo of Bolden which stayed in the possession of Cornish for many years
  • Will Warner - clarinet, part of Bolden’s band
  • Tom Pickett - Nora’s ex-lover and ex-pimp; Buddy cut him up after he heckled Buddy about Nora and him; Buddy slices his shirt up and slices off his nipple and cuts up his face; they get in a fight in the shaving parlor; a strop breaks his elbow and damages his knee; lives in Chinatown

Notable places and events[edit]

  • Storyville - the brothel district was where one made and lost money; there were over 2000 prostitutes, 70 professional gamblers, and 30 piano players
  • Oyster Dance - naked woman would dance alone on stage to piano music; best was Olivia
  • N. Joseph’s Shaving Parlor - barber shop where Buddy Bolden worked; many customers and visitors sat talking and drinking in there; the shop closed at four and Bolden slept because he would get drunk by then and not be able to cut hair well
  • The Cricket - “spiders” would come with news for The Cricket to the barber shop in the first hour or so of opening; existed between 1899 and 1905; took in and published all the information Buddy could find; it respected stray facts, maniac theories, and well-told lies; studied broken marriages, gossip about jazzmen, and a servant’s memoirs; contained excessive reference to death
  • Shell Beach - the last place Buddy went before he disappeared; he was playing with Crawley
  • Slaughter - the last town Buddy passed through before being committed to the mental institution

(these characters/places/things came directly from novel)

In 2006, Variety reported that Ben Ross was adapting Coming Through Slaughter for the screen.[1]


  1. ^ "Paul Maslansky Gets Jazzy for Coming Through Slaughter"