A Midwestern girl finds rapture and heartbreak with a guitar god during California’s rock ’n’ roll heyday.
Debut novelist Hill taps her memories of California’s halcyon days to poorly fictionalize the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle made famous by legendary Rolling Stone photographer Annie Leibovitz. The protagonist, a quiet refugee from the high desert named Rosie Kettle, emerges wholly formed from adolescence and makes her way to San Francisco, where she finds the Summer of Love has already gone south. Rosie makes her name as an artist with her very first photo, a single amateur snapshot of an old blues pianist, Robert Clay, and his young sideman, David Wilderspin. When Clay kills himself, Rosie becomes a national sensation in high demand and Wilderspin reinvents himself as a rocker burnout straight out of A Star Is Born (Streisand, not Garland). Something of a mercenary shutterbug, Rosie goes for the money shots to portray the hot-selling stars and their dubious lifestyles in the most romantic light. “Of course, we never got to sell pictures of the real business, the lawyers and the executives, the guys who made the real money, but no 13-year-old with a dollar to spend would ever have put her money down on a picture of two suits shooting up over a gold-faucet sink in the executive washroom,” Rosie laments. The photographer copes by shuttling her loyalties between the pathetic, drug-fueled musician and her friendship with Peter, an iconoclastic Hungarian refugee who soon sells his burgeoning music magazine, New Rock City, to a Jann Wenner doppelgänger. With its resolute focus on its heroine’s unseemly love affair with a man who loves heroin far more than his resolute bride, the novel reels unsteadily toward disaster, fueled by awkward prose and punctuated only briefly by Wilderspin’s sophomoric tantrums and the occasional steamy sex scene.
This overwrought drama, whose author lived through the era, is only a little bit rock ’n’ roll and a lot movie-of-the-week.