Saturday, December 31, 2011

Stone Arabia by Dana Spiotta

Is controllable fantasy ultimately more painful than hard reality?

This was an amazing book. When I was finished, I wanted to turn to page one and start all over because I sensed there were patterns and motifs I missed. The writing was beautiful and the ideas beneath the writing were thought-provoking. How do we live our life now? How do we comfort ourselves now?

The themes were dreams, aspirations, memories, and regrets, depicted using the technological tools of modern life: Youtube, cell phones, and twenty four hour news channels.

The book is about a brother and a sister. Nik Kranis, a failed musician, defined by our society as a loser, has in fact not abandoned his art, and in a way, not abandoned ambition either. For twenty five years he has continued recording albums in a garage, though albums only for himself. He’s created and documented a complete fantasy world (The Chronicles) of rock stardom. He’s nutty. The sister, Denise, is afraid she’s losing her memory because her mother has Alzheimer’s. Denise get overly emotionally involved with 24 hour news channels and far off people’s tragedies. Her empathy has gotten out of control (or has it?). Meanwhile, Denise’s daughter finds a perfect documentary subject in Uncle Nik.

The siblings grew up in the heart of Hollywood, each one with a Hollywood dream. Nik will be a rock star, Denise will be a movie star. Nik is handsome, Denise is pretty. What can stop them? Twenty five years later, Denise is a secretary with an upside down mortgaged house in Santa Clarita and Nik is a bartender in a run down one bedroom in Topanga Canyon. Both live in Southern Californian suburbia about as far away from Hollywood dreams as you can get.

Denise’s story feels more complete – in many ways, the novel is about her responding to Nik’s madness. At the end of the book, she travels to Stone Arabia. The title remains a mystery until the very end. Denise disconnects from the Internet and transforms her voyeurism of pity into a face to face connection. That scene is ambiguous. Does technology make us better off?

The stories sort of fall apart at the end, especially Nik’s story and it felt like a semi suitable ending was patched on. But overall, a very impressive book.

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