A writer’s life is studded with celebrity appearances in this whimsical collection of linked stories.
When we meet Rose at 17 in 1963, she’s a student at a summer arts program in the Canadian countryside where an American author who has recently published a “novel about an aging basketball player” is the visiting writing instructor. But the young John Updike is less moved by Rose’s writing talent than her long, tanned legs, Bermuda shorts, and matching halter tops, and by the end of the summer Rose will have learned more about the faithlessness of men than the writing of fiction. In subsequent stories, she’ll go on a date with Bill Murray, be stalked by Charlotte Rampling, and share a stolen kiss with Bob Dylan after he mysteriously crashes her family’s summer vacation. Fourteen stories and 50 years later, she’s had a facial from Gwyneth Paltrow and liver surgery by a drunk Keith Richards, winding things up by taking a canoe trip with Leonard Cohen, Karl Ove Knausgaard, and Taylor Swift. Jackson, a Canadian magazine journalist making her fiction debut, finds many ingenious ways to play this game, but the quality of the stories is inconsistent, and there’s not much to keep you going except to see which famous name is next. The most emotionally developed piece is also one of the cleverest, “Free Love,” in which Rose and her boyfriend, Nick, run into Joni Mitchell in the Cretan village of Matala. All the details of the setting come from Mitchell’s song “Carey”: the silver, the wine, the wind in from Africa, Carey himself. As Nick throws himself unabashedly into an affair with the girl in the next cave, Rose becomes increasingly miserable. As Joni puts it in a heart-to-heart at the Mermaid Café, “This free-love thing. It’s bullshit.”
A one-trick pony, with a pretty good trick.