A teenager in 1970s Detroit takes his first steps toward hard-rock rebellion after a soft-rock upbringing.
Zadoorian’s third novel (The Leisure Seeker, 2009, etc.) is narrated by Danny, a white kid in Detroit who’s slowly getting pushed out of his bubble. The 1967 race riots introduced him to racial divides, starting high school makes him absurdly anxious about becoming a drug addict, and a classmate who prankishly played the MC5’s “Kick Out the Jams” in class reveals the existence of a louder, more profane world. His father’s tastes run to the “beautiful music” of the title (the Carpenters, John Denver, etc.), but after he dies, Danny begins a slow-motion process of acting out, developing an affection for Led Zeppelin and Iggy Pop. That connects him to a fellow record nerd named John, who introduces him to the charms of British rock mags and weed. Increasingly confident thanks to John's friendship and a stint at the school radio station, Danny begins to push back against his grieving mother, who’s been drinking heavily. The novel is notable for being a coming-of-age story without a romantic peg, Danny being too emotionally formless to pursue a relationship. But Zadoorian keeps the tone upbeat in other ways: He’s skilled at capturing the feeling of release that music can provide (“something snaps in your heart and a jolt of pure happiness shoots through you better than all the dope in the world”) as well as the anxiety the novelty of that experience can produce in a sheltered kid. The emphasis on those lighter elements soft-focuses the drama of the final pages, where racial tensions and mom’s drinking come to a head. But that captures Danny’s character too: The real world is encroaching, but he can keep it at arm’s length just a while longer.
A likable bildungsroman that cannily evokes how music transforms teenage identity.