Sunday, March 08, 2009

Review: Rock Bottom

Title: Rock Bottom
Author: Michael Shilling
Genre: Fiction
Published: 09 January 2009
Pages: 400
Rating: 8 / 10
Challenges: N/A, but I did receive it through the LIbraryThing ER Program
Awards: none

Synopsis: (from the back cover)
Once upon a time, Blood Orphans were the next big thing. They had a fat recording contract, the swagger of the gods, and cheekbones that could cut glass. They were the darlings of the LA music scene. They were locked and loaded for rock-and-roll greatness.

And then everything...went...wrong. The singer became a born-again Buddhist who preached from the stage. The bass player's raging eczema turned his hands into a pulpy mess. The drummer, a sex addict tormented by the misdeeds of his porn-king father, was losing his grip on reality. And the guitar player - the only talented one - was a doormat cowed by the constant abuse of his bandmates.

Set in Amsterdam on the last day of Blood Orphans' final tour, this novel tells the raucous story of a band - and their heroically coked-out female manager - trying to get in one last shot at fame's elusive bull's-eye. Rock Bottom is a pitch-black comedy, a wild ride on the crazy train of outrageous misfortune, and a bighearted paean to the power of dreams. It heralds the debut of a fierce new voice in American fiction.
My Review: Full disclosure: I almost stopped reading this book in the first chapter. See, the first few pages are narrated by the bassist (the one with eczema) and the first chapter is an obscenity-laden quest for him to find some relief from his itching hands. It's really gross, and I immediately disliked the guy. Luckily for me, the narrative shifts several times in this novel (all the guys in the band get a turn to tell their side of the story, as does Joey, the manager), so I didn't have to deal with him for very long.

The novel takes place over the course of a day in Amsterdam. It's Blood Orphans last show, although not all of them realize it yet. They've been dropped from their label, a major magazine has described them as racist, and they're basically seen as a joke. As each band member takes his turn as narrator, we learn how the band got to where it is today. We also see a lot of fighting (mostly with each other, although there is an assault on a local protester - but he really had it coming), a little romance (true love, for real) and, of course, sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll. It's an interesting story, and I really liked the way that Shilling shifted the narration. It made me - well, not sympathize, exactly, but definitely allowed me to understand and appreciate what the characters had gone through in the past and how that shaped their present actions. None of them are terribly likable, except for maybe Adam, the talented and beaten-down guitarist. He's the one I was really rooting for, but I ended the novel feeling more like Darlo (the sex-crazed drummer with Daddy issues) was the hero.

All in all, it's a pretty good book. By the time I got to the last 100 pages, I was reading into the wee hours of the night just to get finished. I've always been a little fascinated by the music industry, so this was a nice (fictional) peek into that world, and I enjoyed reading about the characters, even if I didn't like them much. Does that make sense? Either way, the characters make this book. Shilling did an excellent job of giving each an individual voice. They were five completely different personalities, and they all came alive for me while I was reading. I wouldn't recommend it for the faint of heart, but I think it's a great book.

Other stuff: There's a Blood Orphans website, where you can read more about the band and the book and hear music based on the lyrics in the novel. It's actually pretty good!

Shilling's next novel is set in Victorian England, and I'm really looking forward to reading it.

Other Reviews:

If you have reviewed this book as well, leave me a message in the comments and I'll link to your review.