In Anderson’s novel, a musician rehabilitates himself and has one last go at success, culminating in an appearance at the Grammy Awards.
At the Grammy Awards in 1997, Zack Fluett, keyboardist with the band Cultural Wasteland, makes headlines when he punches his co-writer and lead singer, Lark Dray, in the nose, breaking his hand in the process. The novel toggles back and forth in time, cataloging the events leading up to the punch and Zack’s post-Grammy fall from grace and his eventual, song-by-song rise to a position of respectability in the music community once again. We see Zack at various key moments in his life: meeting Lark at a party in 1991 and forming the band that will eventually become Cultural Wasteland; his marriage to Claudia Rankin, a publicist whose Philadelphia high-society upbringing is at odds with Zack’s childhood, spent on a ranch in Billings, Mont.; his building a recording studio at his home outside Aspen as a way of getting reacquainted with his muse. The framing device for the story is the Grammy Awards broadcast in 2008, where, a decade after his last infamous appearance, Zack finds himself nominated for song of the year and reckoning with the demons from his past. An entertainment lawyer, rock musician and record label owner, the author writes knowingly about the music scene. His story is as old as rock ’n’ roll itself—a cautionary tale of how sex, drugs and rampant ego can torpedo a career. What redeems it is the wit and honesty with which Zack narrates his story and the author’s eye for detail, as manifested in his faux discographies, Billboard charts and newspaper articles that begin every chapter. Although the ending is pat, there are enough jagged edges for this rock novel to qualify as the real deal.
A familiar story made new by the empathetic main character and an authentic rock ’n’ roll universe.