Stone Arabia by Dana Spiotta
Scribner, New York, 2011
Borrowed from my library.
I have yet to read A Visit from the Goon Squad, but some have made comparisons between it and Stone Arabia. I think it’s just because they are both about a certain time period in America and, specifically about music, be it pop, blues, rock or punk.
This is a story about a brother and sister. Denise Kranis and her brother, Nik, grew up in Los Angeles during late seventies/early eighties. Since their father had handed him a guitar at age ten, Nik had played music, he wrote music, he had a band. But something happened, Nik broke up the band and drifted from job to job, eventually ending up pouring drinks in a dive bar, where he has been for the last fifteen years.
Denise has a decent job, a daughter, a relatively quiet life, and has always supported Nik when he needs it. But as her mother begins to lose her memory and Nik seemed to be sliding into depression, Denise chooses to revisit and evaluate her past. Her focus turns to examining Nik’s creative projects, particularly The Chronicles, a collection of music, CD’s , liner notes and reviews. Nik has built an alternative life, a musical life, and documented every bit of it.
This short novel is really about family and memory, the way the two intertwine and change each other. It is not straight forward, moving between the present and the past, told in the first and third person. There is a lot of America in it, both past and present. I liked Stone Arabia and found it moving and intelligent.
Memory resides in what you notice, what you feel, what catches in your mind. And the things I remember best about the last year are not conversations with Ada or dates with Jay or helping Nik. All of those things fuzz into one another. The things I remember best are not my experiences at all. They are what I call the permeable moments: events that breached the borders of my person. Let’s call them breaking events. I don’t mean breaking news. I mean the breaking of boundaries. These are incidents that penetrated my mind, leaked the outside inside. From page 106.
…We are all really good at pretending we are a normal family, and somehow us pretending all at once is a big part of what makes us feel like a family. It is like a willed self-delusion. Or maybe you can lie to yourself, that’s a self-delusion, but if you have a delusion about several people, if you all share in this delusion, that isn’t self-delusion, is it? That is a family. From page 232.