A heartfelt and hyperliterate take on love as a mixtape.
Coviello (English/Univ. of Illinois, Chicago; Tomorrow's Parties: Sex and the Untimely in Nineteenth-Century America, 2013, etc.) tells the story of recovering from his life's greatest loss to date: the breakup of his marriage and family. A sheltered young English professor, the author met and married an older woman with children. Her affair with a co-worker a few years later shattered his world and left him in the precarious, nonlegal role of ex-stepfather to her two daughters. Coviello recounts memories in the present tense, and the 18 songs of the title prove closer to 30, with each chapter evoking a few pop songs that trigger memories surrounding the dissolution of his marriage. His sincerity is by turns insufferable and irresistible, but he is a true believer in the power of love and in the magic of certain pop songs to encapsulate, transform, infect, and heal. His personal compilation mixes tunes that remind him of his bewitchingly broken ex-wife, Evany, with songs that evoke his feelings as a suburban man learning to love and be loved by other people, plus a few tracks for the loyal friends who picked him up each time he collapsed in grief. With its convoluted syntax and attenuated musings about love and the inner life, Coviello’s style imitates his heroes Henry James and George Eliot, and reading his book feels a bit like finding a cache of letters from one close friend to another, with the writer casually unraveling on the page. Summing up one’s life in a list of carefully chosen tracks has developed into something of a microgenre, with pop songs serving as the madeleines for the last pre-digital generation. While some other High Fidelity–inspired memoirs undoubtedly “do” the music better, few outpace the grim vivacity of Coviello’s writing or match the depth of feeling he summons from the soundtrack of his own neuroses.
A diary of devastation too good not to share.