Review: Unplugged

April 30, 2014 Comments Off on Review: Unplugged

I picked this book up because the author is presenting “Scenes and Songs from the Novel Unplugged” the day after tomorrow, and I was curious. Turns out the man has talent! Just not a very good editor, apparently. It’s about rock star Dayna Clay, who abruptly deserts her tour, tries to kill herself, then drives aimlessly until she ends up in the Badlands, which speak to her and heal her. It’s an enjoyable book in spite of reading very young.

McComas uses too many words. I found myself rewriting as I read, just a little—well, not even rewriting, just crossing out a word here and there—and it was amazing how much tighter the book could have been. There’s a lot of “she paid for her groceries, walked to her car, put the bag in the backseat, and got in,” a lot of “‘I think,’ she said out loud, ‘that that might be true,'” and he has an embarrassing adolescent infatuation with ellipses and quotation marks. But the talent is apparent even so, and not just as pertains to the style. McComas has great psychological rhythm: he is skilled at creating effortless little significant episodes, something I have always struggled with, and the pacing of these is mostly good. I found myself swinging Tarzan-like from neat vignette to lovely phrase to solid dialogue exchange, and the next vines arrived with enough regularity that I was comfortable reading like that (as opposed to some books, where you reach out, grasp air, and go into free fall).

In a way it’s too bad the protagonist is a gritty bisexual rock star struggling with depression and a history of abuse—it looks awfully Mitch Albom, doesn’t it, especially when you drop her into a plot where she finds herself by dropping everything and driving west, getting in touch with nature and falling in love—but I have to say, it’s well done. The story would be saccharine and corny in most hands, and the Big Reveal would be enormously built-up and anticlimactic, but somehow the book turns out right. One exception is the interview published by a reporter who tracks her down—it’s nothing but a soapbox for a bunch of pet topics: defining someone by their sexuality, sugarcoating the truth, the validity of sex vs. marriage, why Biblical literalism is bad, etc. Blah. Occasionally the symbolism gets a little heavy-handed; occasionally the woman-to-woman attraction scenes start to sound a little too much as if they were written by a man; occasionally depression and suicide are portrayed pretty simplistically. But I can’t come down too hard on all this because there’s a totally outlandish scene at the end of the book, where she strikes out into the wilderness and ends up having a kind of spirit quest, complete with visions and communion with animals, which is just perfect and wonderful and possibly enough to make me want to buy the book. Plus it is indeed true that the Badlands are magical, and I am currently very homesick for them and may need to make a pilgrimage.

I heard about this book through publicity for Sexual Assault Awareness Month, but that’s not really what it’s about. It’s a surprisingly quiet little read, considering how loud the characters and plot should be…but if it were that loud, I would never have finished it. Despite constant internal criticism of the editing, I am very glad I read it. But dude, if you’re looking for an editor for your next book, drop me a line.


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