The Kranis chronicles

A review of Stone Arabia by Dana Spiotta

I love novels about musicians. I've read great stories about musicians from pianist Clara Schumann in Clara to aging punk rockers in A Visit from the Goon SquadI loved Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, and I even made myself finish Miss Misery, which is probably the worst book I've ever read, just to see what songs were name-dropped. So, it's no surprise that I really liked Dana Spiotta's novel Stone Arabia

Denise Kranis and her brother Nik are also big fans of all sorts of music. When their mostly absent father gives Nik a guitar for his birthday, Nik's life takes a dramatic turnImmediately, he sets out to learn to play and write songs, and he starts his first band in high school. From then on, music is the most important thing in his life. Stone Arabia finds the siblings approaching middle age, reflecting on the consequences of their rock and roll influenced lives. Denise has become a fairly normal adult; she works, takes care of her ailing mother, dates a little, and talks on the phone with her 20-something daughter. Nik's life is slightly different. He's a bartender by trade, but his true passion lies in the creation of his life's work: a decades-long project in which he chronicles his fictional career as a rock star/indie god.

Much of the novel reads as Denise's attempt at chronicling her own life in relation to Nik's. The story is told in a collage of Nik's writings, Denise's writings, her memories, and interviews that her filmmaker daughter conducts with her eccentric uncle Nik, who she has deemed a subject worthy of a documentary. This is one of those odd books that I like despite not particularly liking the characters. Though I didn't find Denise or Nik extremely likeable, I thought they were very real, and the way Spiotta describes their relationship is perfect - tender without being sappy. It's rare to find a book that so eloquently reveals the complicated nature of adult sibling relationships, or the plain truths about how quickly time can catch up with us.

Spiotta's second novel, Eat the Document, was a finalist for the National Book Award, and it was fantastic. I don't think Stone Arabia is quite as good, but I have a feeling it will be getting quite a bit of attention, too. Critics are comparing it to A Visit from the Goon Squad, which is understandble considering the subject matter, and it's quite a complement to Spiotta. I wouldn't be surprised to see some award seals on the paperback version of this book, either.

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