There's a point in this novel when one character says something to the effect of you can't say something that is both self-pitying and sarcastic. Then the other character high fives the interlocutor for being so insightful, which kind of made me vom. That's just a stupid thing to say, and sure, it's the kind of thing that self-involved knobs would say to each other - which is undoubtedly the point - but the way this aphoristic douchery is repeated, oh, I don't know, like a refrain? or a hook? in a book about art and music scene assholes just set my teeth. There's more hooks in this novel than a tackle box, and absolutely none of them set into my skin. How bout this for an aphorism: you can't write a book satirizing hype while simultaneously believing the hype. Or, wait, you totally can
but it just isn't very good.
The whole novel appears to be a send up of scenesters and the biz - The Crying of Lot 49 era Thomas Pynchon meets William Gibson's Bigend trilogy meets mid-period Tom Robbins being the elevator pitch. (Which, gah.) I checked out the audio for a long car ride - this now brings my batting average down to .500 for audio, which is great if you're playing baseball, but sucks for books. And that's even considering I've been a lot less grouchy about my ratings this year. The paper book must be tiny - only sixish hours - read by the author himself. He does fine, although he has the tendency to read women's dialogue in that breathy speaking falsetto way that make me nuts. I shoulda went with some dire looking Harry Potter clone that spelled magic like Magyk that I also checked out; at least then maybe the kids wouldn't have started fighting so obnoxiously in that last hour.
Anyway, I am not nor have I ever been a music scenester, but nothing about these characters nor the scene passed the smell test. I haven't even stepped foot in California once, and I didn't buy this LA. I'm coming into Lethem cold - he's in a stew of Franzen-Foer-Eggers-Chabon types for me - and I'm not dissing these writers, I'm just pointing out my ignorance (possibly in a self-pitying and sarcastic way, motherfucker).
Anyway, my flyover state lack of creditials on the table, I have known my share of nascent bands and struggling artists. I follow from a comfortable distance the spoken word scene here in town - mostly because I enjoy the dramatics of in-group out-group politics. It's the usual fun of some yellow rag op-ed asshole spouting off about something they don't understand, and then a half dozen irate blog posts about how the op-ed asshole totes doesn't understand. Friends ream each other, and then come to each other's defenses. People are dicks, or not, and points are scored. Sometimes someone actually sees a show. Pictures are posted. It's a blast of competing personalities and aesthetics. (Which, ahem, is one of the reasons I love Goodreads so much - I try explaining whatever tempest in a teapot that went down here to my husband, and there's always a point when I just start laughing because it's both so complicated and so goofy. OMG DID YOU GUYS REALIZE THE RATING SYSTEM IS NOT AN OBJECTIVE METRIC OF QUALITY BUT A COMPLICATED NEXUS OF SOCIABILITY OF THE REVIEWER, AGE OF REVIEW, POPULARITY OF THE BOOK, IN ADDITION TO SOMETHING THAT MIGHT BE AN OBJECTIVE METRIC, BUT ONLY IF I AGREE ZOMG? THE WORLD, IT ENDS.)
Anyway, point being, scenes is scenes, and the scene in this book was not. At about halfway through the book, the unnamed band busts out onto the scene fully formed from the head of Zeus, and I was like, no fucking way. Scenes are always based on incredibly complex social interactions, with their own nuances and groupings, and people don't so much burst onto a scene as claw their own niche out with knives. And especially no fucking way because they played their earworm song twice
in one set. I am but a simple cavewoman, but that is ridic. My boss at the frame shop - a hardcore KQ92 classic rock dude - once went to a Neil Diamond concert, and bitched to me for a whole shift about how Neil had played Sweet Caroline twice. And this was Neil
- a demi-god in my boss's eyes - not some bunch of poseurs at an art installation gone wrong.
To be fair, some of the stuff about how bands work on a musical level, um, worked - must get thesaurus. Yes, the bassist can work as the pivot between the rhythm section and the harmony types. Yes, the creative process can gel in a moment, coming out bang shoot shoot
from the odd phrase from someone not usually at the flash point for such moments. But ultimately, these folk weren't really folk, and any reality to the creative process got undercut by how un-people they were. The main character is a woman, and I kept thinking, nope. This is not how a woman would work. That can be fine - I don't think Oedipa Maas from Lot 49
is a woman, but as a satirical creature, I'm willing to accept her unreality. Partially because she lived in a California that wasn't realistic in the strictest sense, but completely nailed the idea
of California. OMG, YOU GUYS, DID YOU KNOW THAT NO ONE WALKS IN LA? I KNOW, RIGHT? SO TRUE. Fucking whatever. I've seen that movie, twice.
There's a romantic comedy vibe here - full of gross, tableau-style sex - and I'm willing to bet Lethem was going for some kind of genre critique or something. Problem being, mostly characters in romantic comedies are unlikable sociopaths propped up by a soundtrack, so when you write a pointed critique of romantic comedies peopled by unlikable sociopaths propped up by a soundtrack you can't even hear
it just feels lazy and stupid. Yes, and? Also, never write a chapter in the second person. That may just be my personal tick, but I fucking hate the second person. I get what you're doing, you who is not the reader of this review but the writer of this book, but there has to be a better way of creating the distance between art producer and art consumer without the hammy you pelting me from on high.
I'm slipping into rant, which was not my intent. This book did me fine for four hours from Grand Marais to Minneapolis. But once I switched off the car and put the groceries away, I realized I didn't give a shit about anyone here, and if the central relationship kept heading where it was heading, I was going to end in a rantier place than I am now. So I'm not going to finish the book, so if you don't like DNF reviews, then ha ha, sucker, I tricked you into reading several paragraphs about something I'll never finish. See how the second person sucks? She said with both sarcasm and self-pity. OMG YOU GUYS, HOW CAN SOMEONE HAVE AN OPINION ABOUT SOMETHING SHE NEVER EVEN READ TO THE BITTER BITTER END?