What’s up with that? Jennifer Egan? Nick Hornby? Camden Joy? Roddy Doyle? Bits and pieces here and there, sure. Good stories. Put Stacey D’Erasmo right up there.
“Wonderland” is knock-out whether or not it accomplishes the job of capturing that live-on-stage thing (and I think it does).
“Wonderland” is about redemption and it’s about the big giant tug of art and performance. It’s about a performer trying to regain that moment, that special feeling of being a performer who mattered. Er, who matters. Maybe.
“I’m not bankable,” thinks Anna Brundage. “I was never all the bankable anyway, however well regarded I may have been in certain circles. Moreover, from thirty-seven to forty-four, in music years, even the kind of unhit-making music I make, is impossible. The Atlantises of a hundred careers as bright as mine, brighter, have sunk since then. It was my own fault, to be sure. I was the one who choked, and the price has been steep.”
D’Erasmo’s portrait of Brundage is powerful. The book appears thin, but 256 pages read like double that. The information is rich. It’s easy to read, but the prose is thick. It doesn’t lend itself to skimming. The novel is told in first-person and Brundage is a keen observer, aware of her place in the world and what she’s done to her career. It’s very hard to believe D’Erasmo never fronted a band but her research—touring with the Scissor Sisters in Europe—paid off. (In an interview on Bookforum, D’Erasmo said she wrote many of the live music scenes, however, before the tour—using her “intuition.”)
Brundage openly concedes an interest in solving “the mystery of life,” but the narrative never grows sentimental. Brundage’s father is an experimental artist, prone to sawing stuff (say, trains) in half. She knows answers are elusive, yet chases them hard. She relishes risk. She seeks reinvention, renewal or rebirth.
A relatively simple story on the surface, “Wonderland” mucks around in the mysterious murk between work and art. Here is the grind. There is the brief moment on stage where you disappear, float away and hear chords that aren’t even there. Here’s the work that goes into putting a band stage for a comeback tour (come back from what?). Here are the few moments on stage where it all matters. You might be searching for something, your bandmates might be looking for something else. Where is the art? What do you have left to say? What have you learned?
You climb back on stage and go searching. “I take a few breaths and spiral into the opening notes of ‘The Orchids.’ I am there. I blow the song through the back of the rickety concert hall and out into the night, folded, gleaming, fast, faster, unbroken, alive, whirling inside the secret chamber, rose and gold, unstoppable, irresistible, straight into the veins, hair-raising.”
Yep. “Wonderland” is all of that, too.
(By the way, Bookslut has an interesting list of rock and roll novels here.)