Stone Arabia by Dana Spiotta
From NYC in the Jazz Age (in Amor Towles' Rules of Civility), we jump to the alt-rock scene of L.A. in the '80s, '90s, and '00s, delivered in gritty detail in Dana Spiotta's Stone Arabia. Brother and sister Nik and Denise Kranis grow up in a rickety family with a single mom just barely keeping it together. But they have each other, and then they discover rock and roll and they have that, too. Nik ends up a musician—a brilliant failure—with uber fan Denise always there to bail him out and prop him up, to pay the rent and break bad news to bosses and girlfriends. The story-within-the-story is an elaborate alter-ego, alter-band, and alter-career that Nik creates for an audience of two: himself and his sister. Told in Denise's warm but weary, slightly frenetic voice, this is a story about:
The (mostly antagonistic) relationship between art and commerce;
What happens when we've always lived in the moment and now we're almost old;
Those human urges that can only be satisfied—and only for a time—by electric guitars and garbled vocals and vivifying drum beats;
Drugs, escape, and creativity;
Rusting vs burning out vs fading away.
But at its heart Stone Arabia is a love story, about the ties that bind siblings, especially when they share a tough childhood and favor the same tonic. It is also a testament to the pursuit of artistry despite—and to spite—the star-making machinery behind the popular song. Given the topic and the setting, I was expecting an overdose of snark, grunge, and cynic hipness. What I found was passion, compassion, and hard-earned insights about how to endure.
In Dana Spiotta's own words, via Denise Kranis:
“After [my sort-of boyfriend] gave me my birthday present, we watched Odd Man Out. I didn't tell Jay any of my birthday anxieties. Not because I wanted to withhold something. I just didn't feel them when I was with him. I didn't want to talk about myself; I wanted to talk about movies. Somehow, in the time between being young and where I was, the life-story recital grew too long, both dull and complicated. When I was eighteen, I wanted to tell my lovers every inch of every moment that led to this miraculous moment. I thought that would make them understand me, and then they would have to love me. But now that I was older, and actually had a life story, I didn't feel like telling it or hearing it. I just wanted him to press against me as we slowly figured our bodies out. I understood our real stories lived there anyway.”
Next up: Fresh Flash—short-short stories that pack a twisted punch...