For anyone waiting for the publishing industry to embrace the rock novel, 2011 has been a breakout year. First, Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Then this past summer Ecco released Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson, which was just named one of the New York Times‘ 10 Best Books of 2011. Scribner followed with Dana Spiotta’s Stone Arabia, which has been reviewed well across the board, even by me, and it was also named a finalist for the 2011 Nobbies. Each of these novels takes seriously the idea that rock and lit can mix, and each succeeds in its way. Still, I couldn’t help but find something lacking in all of them. All three employ rock and roll as an effective prop or backdrop, but what about rock as the ultimate adolescent dream–the sex, the drugs, the backstage shenanigans–that motivated so many of my and other generations? Each these novels has elements of this, but none tackles it as head-on as Tyler McMahon’s debut How the Mistakes were Made.

There’s been a great deal of talk lately about women writers not getting their due in important literary magazines like The New Yorker, Harper’s and The Atlantic Monthly. In this survey by VIDA, it’s pretty clear that women get short shrift in the high-brow literary world.

All this talk prompted me to count the number of book reviews I’ve written lately, and the gender of those books’ authors. I’ve reviewed four books in the past year, two by men, two by women.

CHAPTER ONE

Found Objects

 

It began the usual way, in the bathroom of the Lassimo Hotel. Sasha was adjusting her yellow eye shadow in the mirror when she noticed a bag on the floor beside the sink that must have belonged to the woman whose peeing she could faintly hear through the vaultlike door of a toilet stall. Inside the rim of the bag, barely visible, was a wallet made of pale green leather. It was easy for Sasha to recognize, looking back, that the peeing woman’s blind trust had provoked her: We live in a city where people will steal the hair off your head if you give them half a chance, but you leave your stuff lying in plain sight and expect it to be waiting for you when you come back? It made her want to teach the woman a lesson. But this wish only camouflaged the deeper feeling Sasha always had: that at, tender wallet, offering itself to her hand—it seemed so dull, so life-as-usual to just leave it there rather than seize the moment, accept the challenge, take the leap, fly the coop, throw caution to the wind, live dangerously (“I get it,” Coz, her therapist, said), and take the fucking thing.

I was excited when I heard about the novel A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. I’m kind of a sucker for any fiction that employs a rock and roll setting, and I stopped everything to read it.

From the blurbs I’d found online, I hadn’t expected Goon Squad to have such a complex rock and roll backdrop–I thought only one of its characters worked in the music business–but most of its characters are at least tenuously attached to life in the biz. The novel is filled with producers, record company folks, washed-up musicians, publicity people, fans. I love it when a novelist takes on this much of the rock and roll world.