The best literary criticism is not at The New York Times, The Washington Post, The TLS, or The New York Review of Books. Such papers publish brilliant articles, but their editors are at a crossroads, experimenting with shorter articles, colloquial language, and reviews of romance novels to attract readers.
Perhaps the online science fiction/fantasy magazine Tor.com features the sharpest writing on the web these days, even if you do not read SF. (I rarely do.) Tor has recruited smart reviewers and lively columnists, among them SF writer Jo Walton, whose brilliant essays in What Makes This Book So Great were first published here; Maria Tatar, an expert on fairy tales who teaches at Harvard; Liz Bourke, who has a Ph.D. in classics and writes the “Sleeps with Monsters” column; and the SF novelist Judith Tarr, who writes about horses in science fiction.
I am a science fiction fan, though I don’t read much of it. When Tor (also an SF publisher) announced its acquisition of Scotto Moore’s novella, Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You, I noted it because I love rock novels. Recently published and on sale as a $3.99 ebook, this novella proved a wild ride.
The narrator, a music blogger, becomes obsessed with a new band, Beautiful Remorse, whose music he discovers through a Google alert to another obscure band. He spends all Saturday night listening to their first song over and over. And his physical reaction when he comes to himself Sunday morning is extreme exhaustion.
Then he decides to blog about Beautiful Remorse.
I was beginning to want more information about “Overture.” That’s my thing—I’ve been a music blogger since the earliest days of music blogging, and I’m never satisfied until I’ve digested not just the music itself, but all available metadata about the music. I need to place it in the firmament, understand where it came from, how it connects to the vast musical genre tree that defines consciousness as we know it. And this was no ordinary track, obviously, no simple confection—it swallowed you up like a drop of rain landing in the ocean and losing its coherence, its own identity.
Beautiful Remorse releases one hypnotic track a day, and soon the other bloggers are obsessed. The narrator feels that Airee Macpherson, the singer, is speaking to him personally. When he messages her at Tumblr to ask for an interview, she invites him to a concert in Austin. Let me just say that the band’s effect on the concert-goers is unexpected. It is a VERY good idea to wear industrial-strength earplugs.
This dark, rollicking novel is extremely plot-oriented. The writing is a bit pedestrian, but Moore is fascinating as he raises horrific questions about good and evil. I’m not quite sure what he means at the twisted end, but I enjoyed this little book thoroughly. And I’ll never feel the same about rock music.
OTHER ROCK NOVELS ON THE TBR
D. J. Taylor’s Rock and Roll Is Life. This one is not science fiction! Here’s a quote from the review at the Daily Mail. “Taylor’s magnificent new novel is Spinal Tap for literary types . . . thoroughly entertaining, knowledgeable romp through the fear and loathing of rock’s golden age. Beautifully written and consistently funny, it is also a poignant account of one man’s search for his own identity.”
Elizabeth Hand’s Wylding Hall. The book description says: “When the young members of a British acid-folk band are compelled by their manager to record their unique music, they hole up at Wylding Hall, an ancient country house with dark secrets. There they create the album that will make their reputation, but at a terrifying cost: Julian Blake, the group’s lead singer, disappears within the mansion and is never seen or heard from again….”
I hope you read a lot of rock fiction in 2019. Oddly, I’ve never read a bad rock novel.