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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

A novel about the "life" of an outsider artist - Stone Arabia

So among other things Dana Spiotta's 2011 novel, Stone Arabia, is a fantastic compendium of info and a encyclopedia of terminology about every conceivable nuance of indie-grunge West Coast rock in the 1980s or thereabouts, fun to read and marvel at as a cultural icon (or mausoleum): How does she know so much? Did she make most of this up? It certainly has the feel of authenticity, which is great, of life lived in love with the music, but Spiotta also playfully mixes in real name-checks and references, not only to the music scene but to movies, celebrity gossip, and the ever-present news crawl of the era depicted in the novel - a few months in 2004, mostly - that to be certain or clear you have to keep checking Wiki or some such source - all to her credit. It's also a fine portrayal of the mind, the genius, and the dereliction not just of a rock singer - there's been plenty of that - but of an outsider artist: the heart and soul of this novel is the narrator's brother, Nik, who, as we come to see over the course of the work, had very minor, local success as a musician and then devoted most of the rest of his life to creating a "character" - Nick Worth - and a whole opus of his works, not only recording these but creating a complete archive about Worth's live, consisting of reviews, diaries, news clippings, and the hardware of rock music - jewelcases for the CD with liner notes etc. Gets you thinking about other outsider artists recently depicted in film, notably for me the great documentary Marwencol (similar in that the artist created not just artworks but a whole artistic world; different in the deep impairment of the artist). His audience is of about 20, including the narrator and her daughter/his niece - but he lets on that he hopes that if his work is unearthed centuries from now the archaeologist will believe that Nick Worth was actually an influential rock star. This of course gets us thinking about what it is to "create" a character - for this is exactly what the novelist is doing as well, after all - Nick Worth is no less real than the narrator, his sister Denise - which gives the novel a neat postmodern flip or veneer. I only wish that this were a little more plot driven - Spiotta doesn't seem interested in plot especially, she's going after setting, mood, and, to a lesser extent, character - Delillo has been cited as her influence, mentor, and friend, and the connection is obvious - but I think she could have built more suspense about Nik's character and could have had a more clear resolution. A really smart writer, though, and, although the book's clearly not aimed at my demo., an intriguing look at a scene long gone.

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