An unnamed 22-year-old pop star looks back over a decade in the spotlight and grapples with his family history.
Near the end of this tautly written debut novel, structured as its narrator’s memoir, he muses on his pop-culture ubiquity. “Something I’ve been thinking about a lot is what it would be like to read this book if you’d never heard of me before,” he writes. It’s a slightly self-conscious touch, but it’s also understandable: This musician at times feels like a recognizable composite of a number of 21st-century singers. The narrator’s relationship with his mentor, a writer named Bob Winstock with some bigoted remarks in his past, is particularly evocative of some of the more contentious aspects of Justin Bieber’s public persona. Structurally, the novel is more subtle than it first appears: It begins in celebrity tell-all mode, with the narrator discussing the loss of his virginity and observing that “it’s actually kind of hard for me to remember anything that happened in my life before I was famous.” But the narrator reveals himself to be more empathic than he seems, yearning for a kind of self-knowledge that he’s never developed the tools to manage and clearly frustrated in ways he can’t articulate by his parents’ divorce and his father’s suicide. It’s a tricky voice to pull off, and Kuritzkes occasionally overdoes some affectations of immaturity. A long subplot involving Oddvar, a scientist helping to maintain a seed vault in Svalbard, resolves ambiguously; it’s unclear if the narrator is unknowingly convincing Oddvar to leave work benefitting the planet for something more ephemeral or if Oddvar himself is unsure of what he wants. But overall, this novel emerges in a less satirical, more humanistic place than it begins.
A thoughtful, subtly structured exploration of fame and its discontents.