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With local bands being shot down in seemingly random killings, musicians question their devotion to rock n’ roll.

The sophomore novel from Jackson (Mira Corpora, 2013) is a dazed and confused meander through the music scene of the small town of Arcadia in the wake of a series of murders. Our eye into the place is Xenie, a teenage singer with hidden gifts but one who is keeping some dark secrets. “Follow the trail of unused tickets,” compels the book, a series of random snapshots of disaffected characters reeling as bands start getting shot midperformance all over the country. After her boyfriend is killed, Xenie goes a little bit crazy. On the edge of unleashing her voice, she stumbles. “But this time, I didn’t feel inspired to even move my lips,” she says. “The power of music had been steadily disintegrating, and now I realized the remaining scraps had started to curdle....Maybe whatever infected the killers had also infected me.” Jackson portrays the motley scene of dive bars, drunken musicians, and punk ethos with a practiced eye, and his prose is linguistically nimble. But there’s an emptiness to this experimental novel which comes complete with a Side A and a Side B, two alternate versions of the same story. Not only does the book offer little in the way of resolution, the monotony of the characters makes them virtually interchangeable. Xenie tries to make an argument that these killings are meant to make the music matter again, but the story here argues the opposite, portraying the banality and futility of a dying scene. You can see where Jackson is going, whipping up an indie-influenced modern Singles, but there’s just no edge here. As Xenie ultimately learns, “Anybody can open their mouth...and sing a fucking song.”

A rock novel that’s more DOA than DIY.

Pub Date: Oct. 16th, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-374-53766-1
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2018


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