In this novel, a guitarist/songwriter at a rehab for musicians suspects something sinister behind the treatment he and others are receiving.
Rick Paulsen wakes up in rehab but not for drugs. It’s Pantheon Recovery Services, run by Dr. Robert Capricorn, the “rock and roll psychiatrist” who limits his treatment to musicians. It’s been eight years since Rick scored the 1991 hit “Cutback” with his band, the Velveteen Habits. The now-disbanded group and Rick’s subsequent solo career have never re-created that level of success. His fellow patients have likewise had a single commercial hit, which Capricorn attributes to Schumann’s Dissociative Disorder. Those afflicted have trouble writing songs because they continuously hear unwanted musical notes. Rick, who didn’t volunteer for rehab (he guesses his manager signed him up), has a surprise run-in with a woman from his past. He contemplates escaping the rehab’s isolated island with her once the treatment starts to seem too intense, including the enigmatic X-Wheel that patients are strapped to. That is, until he experiences an SDD symptom: what he believes is the physical manifestation of an alternate personality dubbed Static. But the questions Rick’s asking—about both SDD and Pantheon—have neither straightforward nor encouraging answers. The bulk of Traikovich’s (The Smiley-Face Witches, 2015, etc.) story is draped in atmosphere; readers have only Rick’s perspective and know no more than the protagonist. This works to great effect: Capricorn speaks eloquently on the subject of SDD, but his treatment is largely ambiguous, making a diabolical plot a distinct possibility. Surreal moments and characters only add to the sense of foreboding, like island security’s being handled by the 8-Ball Imps, a biker gang of “dwarves.” The unhurried narrative is grounded by lighter, more concrete humor, including characters’ frequently discussing real-life one-hit wonders and Rick mapping out areas on the island in a journal he calls the Paulmanac. The denouement, while convoluted, retains the overall uneasiness and leads to an unforgettable ending.
A sometimes-perplexing but always diverting psychological tale.