Friday, April 25, 2014

Book Review: "Wonderland" by Stacey D'Erasmo

Full disclosure: I received an advance readers copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review.

Anna Brundage is a rock musician. While she never was an enormous star, her band's first album made an impact in the music world, and people still talk about it. The second album didn't do so well, and by the third album, she had thrown her chance away, lost in a haze of drugs, insecurity, and a lack of dedication. Her tempestuous affair with a married man she met on one of her tours ended badly, and she couldn't make her marriage work.

Anna now lives in a small apartment in New York City, teaching shop class to young girls at a private school. But she dreams of making it back into the music world. She recognizes that she has one more chance, and she'll do anything she can to make this time last. She sells a priceless piece of her famed artist father's work to fund one more album and a European tour. She's ready to pull out all of the stops.

As her band travels through Europe, Anna finds herself falling into the same old routines—sleeping with random men, practicing erratically, and doubting her own talents. She knows she has the music in her blood and in her brain, but she doesn't always know how to find it, and for the first time, she isn't sure if music is enough to sustain her. At the same time, she must deal with her unresolved feelings about the demise of both her affair and her marriage, wonderinng whether she has squandered her chance at true happiness.

While Anna is trying to make this chance count, to make audiences take notice, she must also confront her bohemian childhood, raised by two nonconformist artists. Wonderland follows Anna on and off stage, both in the current time and flashing back to her previous tours and her previous relationships. Can she find what she needs to succeed this time? Is this success what she really wants, or just what she thinks she wants? Is she willing to give it her all, or will she sabotage her chances again?

I'm a big fan of Stacey D'Erasmo's writing (I particularly loved her book A Seahorse Year), and was completely mesmerized by her prose and her imagery in Wonderland. Anna is a powerful presence, a flawed character who makes you feel for her and shake your head at her actions. You feel just as uncertain as to what you want for her life.

The book is a little disjointed as it moves back and forth through Anna's various tours and relationships, and it's not always easy to figure out what is happening when. And one chapter toward the very end confused me, because I wasn't sure whether this was a flashback, a dream, or a flash forward. But D'Erasmo's storytelling ability compels you to keep reading, and Anna is a character you won't soon forget. There have been many other books written about musicians on the cusp between being utterly washed up and one last breakthrough, but this is a particularly well-told one.

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