Spot-on satire or earnest picture of youth in transition? That’s up to readers to decide with Coy’s debut novel about being young and part of the Nashville scene.
Neil Oberlin, the novel’s narrator, is a graphic designer and music aficionado who has been in Nashville for a few years. The circumstances of his move—new job, death in the family, freshly degreed from graduate school—left Neil somewhat dazed, but his life has settled into a groove of seeking out clients, attending concerts, and hanging out with a cadre of friends who deliver rueful, self-aware political manifestos. Neil’s life is upended, however, by the latest musical star in the Nashville firmament, Garrett Sedgwick, who hires Neil to design the cover art for his latest album. In the process of hanging out and working with Sedgwick, Neil makes a discovery about the soon-to-be-legendary musician that sets his perspective spinning and provides Neil with insights he might have preferred to do without. Coy’s voice is strong and sure; he captures Neil’s voice and tone with specificity and confidence. However, readers’ tolerance for Neil and his impressions of the Nashville scene may strongly depend on whether they see the novel as a satire of the hip, ironic detachment and self-reflexive views of the millennial generation or an earnest attempt to capture their thoughts and hopes in the second decade of the 21st century. Those who see Coy’s work as being meant seriously will likely find the characters vacuous and talkative to a fault, and the thrust of the narrative will be greatly diluted. For those who see a satirical purpose to Coy’s prose, the narrative will likely carry more resonance, and the end result of Sedgwick and Oberlin’s relationship will have a particular melancholy weight, even when seen through the satirical lens.
A well-defined social milieu and articulate characters make Coy’s is it/isn’t it novel an interesting, if uncertain, experience.