Two lovelorn men use an aging rock star’s endless tour as an opportunity to come to terms with domesticity.
Tussing’s second novel (The Best People in the World, 2006) alternates perspectives between Peter, a doctor who’s recently split from his ex girlfriend, and Arthur, who for decades has obsessively followed the life of Jimmy Cross, a Dylan-esque/Springsteen-ish singer whose abstract lyrics are much parsed for hidden messages and profundities. (One of Tussing’s gifts is imagining Boss-like lyrics, from the novel’s title on.) Peter is invited to leave his hospital gig in upstate New York and embed with the tour after the singer has vague complaints about mental fuzziness. (Jimmy was a friend of Peter’s mother, and the novel teases at just how intimate the friendship was.) Meanwhile, news of a doctor on tour prompts Arthur to worry about his idol’s health. Though there are scenes of Peter tagging along on private planes and hanging out with the seen-it-all road crew, Tussing is less interested in writing a rock novel than a road novel—that is, a story about how the highway is a path to finding your home. Tussing plays up this story as comedy in Arthur’s scenes, making him an emotionally adolescent fanboy who abandoned his wife and daughter, until a chance meeting with a woman who might bring his life back into plumb. For Peter, the stakes are more serious: as he spends time medically and emotionally babysitting Jim’s ne’er-do-well son and Jim’s health becomes a concern, he begins thinking of making his own changes. Which is to say that plotwise, it’s a standard-issue midlife-crisis novel with the volume cranked up. But Tussing delivers it with wit and speed, and he recognizes that what’s most interesting about stardom is what takes place offstage.
An offbeat novel that’s savvy about both music and emotional insecurity.