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WONDERLAND by Stacey D’Erasmo

WONDERLAND

by

Pub Date: May 6th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-544-07481-1
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

An aging rock singer heads to Europe for one more attempt to reckon with her music, her father and an old flame.

Anna Brundage, the narrator of D’Erasmo’s fourth novel (Creative Writing/Columbia; The Sky Below, 2009, etc.), is 44 and semifamous. An emotionally stark, drug-fueled album made her a cult figure a decade earlier, but the follow-up failed to connect. So she’s trying another tour, perhaps her last, financed by selling some ephemera of her famous-artist father. The overall shape of Wonderland hews to rock-novel convention. Squabbles with band members: check. Disastrous on-stage meltdown: check. Ill-advised one-night stand: check. But D’Erasmo writes about all of these things artfully and insightfully, giving Brundage a no-nonsense, road-worn tone that leaves equal room for pathos and humor. (For instance: “I had just essentially slept with a fan, and everyone knows that that’s the beginning of turning into a crazy hag with breast implants and lipstick drawn way beyond the lips.”) D’Erasmo is particularly good at capturing the randomness and joy of the creative process, and she links Anna’s songwriting with her father’s work, which involves aggressively sawing or blasting cross sections of trains and buildings. (An event concerning Anna’s father shifts the novel’s pitch midway through.) A subplot involving a fling with a man she met on an earlier tour is relatively thin, but it does give D’Erasmo an opportunity to openly ponder questions about how relationships fit alongside creativity and the simple business of paying the bills. Is Anna’s songwriting an essential part of her identity or a way to avoid confronting it? An invitation to stay on the road even longer gives this question a deeper urgency for Anna, and D’Erasmo wisely avoids giving her story a pat, simple ending.

A better-than-average rock novel that thoughtfully addresses aging, art and relationships.