Thursday, December 22, 2011

Book Review: "How the Mistakes Were Made" by Tyler McMahon

I'm guessing that I love to read books about bands or the music industry because I'm such a huge music fan. Novels like Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad or Tom Perrotta's The Wishbones, or nonfiction like Peter Guralnick's books about Elvis, including the terrific Last Train to Memphis, have an added appeal because music truly captivates me. Tyler McMahon's How the Mistakes Were Made is a great addition to this genre, a tremendously compelling (if not entirely original) look at the powerful hold music and performing has on some people, and the relationships that get caught in the crossfire.

In the early 1980s, Laura Loss was known as the queen of hardcore punk, despite being under 18. The bassist for her brother's legendary band, Second Class Citizens, she traveled the country with the band as it made a name for itself, until punk's own fans detroyed her brother. Ten years later, in pre-grunge Seattle, she still lives on those memories, playing for a second-rate band, until she meets Nathan and Sean, two aspiring musicians from Montana in whom Laura recognizes exceptional genius. Under her tutelage, a new band, The Mistakes, is formed, and the three ride the rollercoaster of pursuing their dreams. Yet two of the key factors in the band's success—Sean's synesthesia (a blending of the senses that allows him to "see" the music) and the chemistry between the three of them—are both challenged as the band experiences a meteoric rise to success. Cutting between Laura's days in her brother's band and the day-to-day world of The Mistakes, this is a book about one woman's struggle to hold her life together for the second time as music once again threatens to tear it apart.

I stumbled across this book on Amazon, having heard nothing about it, and I really enjoyed it. While Laura isn't an altogether sympathetic character, her story and her experience in both bands are very compelling. And while the book never lost my interest (I read the entire book in about a day and a half), the relationship between Laura, Nathan, and Sean isn't particularly unique, and you can see what is going to happen pretty early on. But that doesn't take away from the emotions and raw drama that McMahon imbues the book with. This is a good, solid, entertaining read, particularly if you're interested in the music world.

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