Friday Fiction: Musical Novels by Alex Snider

NXNE is over and my ears have stopped ringing, my dogs have stopped barking and I've been drinking a shit-tonne of wheatgrass smoothies in an attempt to correct the liver damage but like any live music junky, I'm missing my fix. NXNE is the most magical time of year and despite the length of recovery time it takes (gets longer every year), I always go through withdrawal, missing the crushing crowds, the heat, the travelling from venue to venue and the music, man, the fuckin' music. This year, to deal with the withdrawal, I'm going to dip into my reserve of music novels for a less demanding, easier on the ears and liver rock experience.

Whale Music by Paul Quarrington – I don't even know where to begin with this one. Whale Music is one of my all-time favourite Canadian novels, by one of my all-time favourite Canadian authors whom I had the pleasure of meeting several times. Paul Quarrington was a dear friend of one of my dear friends and his death two years ago was a huge blow to the literary landscape of Canada. His novels with their strange and broken characters are utterly original and Whale Music is no exception. The novel is about an aging, washed-up, depleted rock-star savant who, with the help of a runaway Canadian "alien", sets about creating his magnum opus is heart wrenching, hilarious and tender. Read it then watch the amazing movie, keeping an eye for Paul's cameo as a bartender.

Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan – Another Canadian read, Half-Blood Blues won the Giller last year (incidentally, Whale Music won the GG in 1989). Following the lives of two Black jazz musicians in 1940s Paris. The novel, narrated by one of the men, Sid, revisits a time when the other, Hiero (who was German), is arrested by the Nazis and recounts the events that led up to and followed his arrest. The story is about love, friendship, betrayal, war, racism, resistance and jazz.

Corregidora by Gayl Jones – Reading Gayl Jones is like looking at someone's guts. Not in a rubbernecking kind of way because she's asked you to look, but still, the visceral experience leaves you spinning, dazed. Maybe it's more that she makes you look at someone's inner pain and then while you're looking she clenches a fist around your neck, bringing you closer so you can't look away, so you are also uncomfortable. Not to say that she is not one hell of a writer and that reading any of her writing is not enjoyable, it is, but it is also a powerful experience one that should not be taken lightly. Corregidora is the story of Ursa, a Black 1930s American blues singer who suffers a terrible 'accident' that leaves her unable to bear children. Jones dissects race and misogyny and their intersection in sparse, clear language with surgical precision. It was (is?) a cruel world.

The Ground Beneath Her Feet by Salman Rushdie – I haven't read any Salman Rushdie. I am a terrible person/reader. This one is about music. What Rushdie should I read first?

The Time of Our Singing by Richard Powers – I have read two Richard Powers books: one, Gain, blew me away, the other, *ugh* Generosity, was awful. I desperately, despite the epic disappointment of Generosity, want to read The Time of Our Singing (part family drama, part racial allegory, part history lesson) because when my roommate/bfff (best friend for-fucking-ever) read it she could not put it down. Like, would read it while blowdrying her hair, while brushing her teeth, walking down the street. That is an unputdownable novel.

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby – Fucking obviously, right? I mean this is the book about music. Aside from the next one, I mean. I only include High Fidelity so as to write about how Hornby adaptations are, in my opinion, some of the only examples of the movies being better than the books. Not because the books aren't good (there are a lot of adaptations that trump their original material because the original material is kinda trashy) but because there is a certain leading protagonist charm that is lacking from the novels that is captured by the casted actors. I mean, Hugh Grant? John Cusack? The characters are arrogant dickbags but in the right Grant/Cusack-y hands become, well, Hugh Grant and John Cusack. That is their jam. Anyway, the book, High Fidelity, is fine.

Doctor Faustus by Thomas Mann – Maybe the original musical novel? Unless you want to throw The Iliad in there (I DO, OBVIOUSLY, <3 THE ILIAD) because it was sung for centuries or some biblical story or parable about song leading to smiting (I assume there is something in that tome about music=God's wrath). I think we probably all have something we would sell our souls to the devil for, maybe it's musical talent, maybe it's garden with a bird bath (birds fluttering around in water is my favourite thing. Real talk). What is yours? (Rules: You have a soul, there is a devil and there are no repercussions. Go!)

A Life's Music by Andreï Makine – Someone I loath liked this book and unfortunately we had a lot of similarities in taste when it came to books so I'd probably be into this one, too. True story. Plus The Guardian described it thusly: "Andreï Makine's work has elicited laudatory comparisons with Nabokov, Chekhov, even Proust: but it is Voltaire whom his latest book brings to mind, since it has considerable affinities with the conte philosophique in terms of length and tone, as well as in its combination of the episodic and the philosophical." To which I say, congratulations on writing a fine, non-expletive filled, super fancy, $5 word review *slow-clap* and also, Nabokov, Chekhov, Proust and Voltaire you say?? Alright, fine, I'll check it out, sociopathic ex-boyfriends notwithstanding.

Enjoy your weekend! Listen to music! Read about music! Go see some live music! Give money to some buskers! (But not the electric bass player on my corner, no, let's all just squeeze him out.) 


A version of this post orginially appeared on What Fresh Hell Is This? Alex Snider blogs there and tweets here.


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