A post-postmodern rock ’n’ roll novel, entertaining and surprisingly elegant.
The title notwithstanding, the tutelary spirit of this suicide-rich novel is not Sylvia Plath but David Foster Wallace, to whom debut novelist Altschul owes the judicious use of the sometimes parodic footnote. Both drink from the well of Gravity’s Rainbow, but there’s a lot of sly reference to the everyday pop culture and the vernacular of our times along with all the learned literariness, as when the book’s heroine, young Calliope Bird Morath, takes on Charlie Rose (“Wow. You don’t waste any time, do you?”), and when their travels find some of the dramatis personae on a Garpian book tour (“Books! All this attention to books! Not politicians, not teenybopper pop-stars, not that dreadful Brad Pitt: a writer…I was so excited, it was all I could do not to strip naked and run around Courthouse Square.”). As if that were not enough, underlying it all is the lovely framework of The Odyssey. The story opens with Calliope’s recounting the suicide of her father, a famous punk rocker, and the devastating effect of the death on her mother, herself perhaps descended from rock royalty—though not, as rumor has it, “illegitimate offspring of a groupie and the drummer of the MC5.” But did Dad really leave the planet? Calliope, a silent songbird who slowly finds her expression, come adolescence, in brittle poetry, thinks not, as she tells the perplexed, aforementioned Rose; likening herself to Telemachus and her mother to Penelope, she sets off on a strange quest to find him among the lotus-eaters. The footnotes fly, the pop-culture references and allusions (Kim Deal, Beavis and Butthead, the collected works of Dave Eggers) come ever faster, and Calliope makes her way through the world, her tale narrated by both herself and a not-so-omniscient, inquisitive author who relies on eavesdropping and other subterfuge to come by his information—a modern trope if ever there was one.
Nimble prose and an ironic but not smart-alecky stance keep this story moving along nicely—a promising start.