Empty nester has whirlwind affair with indie rock guitarist, with predictable results, in Keating’s second novel (Layla, 2013).
Lily, a slightly zaftig 49-year-old woman with a successful career in industrial videography, a loving if preoccupied city planner husband, Stephen, and a comfortable Manhattan lifestyle, confronts a crossroads when she drops her son, Colby, off at college. How will she define herself now? The answer comes quickly when Colby takes her to a campus performance by “up-and-coming folk rocker” Blaise Raleigh and her lead guitarist, JJ, with his “long ponytail and a worn, raw face that looked dug out of the mountains of Appalachia.” But it isn’t until JJ rips out a riff that Lily is struck by the thunderbolt, or, in her preferred metaphor—if its overuse is any indication—shot through the heart. Approaching JJ after the concert, Lily boldly propositions him to give up smoking, which he does, and then starts following him and Blaise all over upstate New York. (Ostensibly, she’s there to videotape the band.) Stephen is oblivious to his wife’s obsession with a rock star, or more accurately, a talented 43-year-old guitarist who failed to launch a big career. Keating, who writes for Acoustic Guitar magazine, is at her surest when discussing musical issues, whether questions of guitar technique or the challenges of the music business for nonmainstream artists. When, roughly two-thirds of the way through the novel, Lily and JJ finally consummate their flirtation, the situation doesn't seem that fraught. JJ is a genuinely nice person, the age difference is not all that shocking, and Stephen barely notices she’s out of town. None of the potential conflicts are milked for the depth they could afford this novel. When Lily returns to face another sort of music, readers may feel that her come-to-realize moments have been rendered as sketchily as her emotions.
A promising premise sadly underdeveloped.