Dana Spiotta Stone Arabia

Rock and pop memoirs have been a recurring staple of the LitPop Book Club reading list – from Patti Smith and Bob Dylan to Nile Rodgers and Pauline Black, we have enjoyed some fascinating insights into musical lives and times. What’s more, we have been impressed by how creative some of these authors have been in telling their life stories – Ray Davies was perhaps the most adventurous in his “unauthorised autobiography,” in which he appeared as a character in his own fiction. So we were intrigued to find that Dana Spiotta’s 2012 novel centres on the ‘chronicles’ of a cult musician. This exhaustive record of the career of an enigmatic songwriter would be the stuff of dreams for any dedicated fan – but the catch is that Nik Worth has not had a career . . . Every entry in the chronicles – from album reviews (both good and bad) to rare bootleg recordings – has been composed by Nik himself. He has even prepared his own obituary. Readers were captivated by this clever conceit, which prompted much discussion about the nature of reality and illusion. The narrative is told through the perspective of his devoted and long-suffering sister, Denise – who first appears as a character in Nik’s childhood comic. We speculated about the nature of this co-dependent sibling relationship – who was the most needy, the brother who relies on his gainfully employed sister’s bank balance, or the sister whose vocation as her brother’s unofficial PA is placed in jeopardy by his disappearance at the end of the novel? Our relationship to memory was also a recurring theme – while Nik carefully catalogues every detail of his life, his sister ritually empties her home of any trace of the past in an annual New Year’s Day clearout. “The internet will be her memory” muses Denise of her film-maker daughter, who blogs about her ambition to capture the life of her “folk art genius” uncle on film. And a home-baked David Bowie birthday cake provides one of the most poignant moments in the book – when Denise’s mother overcomes her failing memory to recall a culinary triumph in the face of teenage scepticism. Spiotta’s brilliant novel takes its place in what seems to be an emerging genre of ‘high concept’ LitPop, alongside Jonathan Lethem’s You Don’t Love Me Yet and Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad. And who could fail to love a novel which includes album liner notes penned by a fictitious “Greil Marcus Professor of Underground, Alternative and Unloved Music.”

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