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3.4 out of 5 stars
Stone Arabia: A Novel
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on July 28, 2012
Format: Paperback
An authentic portrait of an artist? An authentic portrait of a forty-seven-year-old woman who loves an artist? I loved this book for its authenticity, its intimacy. And, interestingly enough, the story centers around a musician who creates his own fake, non-authentic rock n' roll legacy.

The narrator watches the news. There is, often within these pages, a kind of juxtaposition between the external and the internal: the reporting of a story and the workings of the mind, the Hollywood buzz and the truth behind the glamour. There is this: "A breaking story was in progress. Everything was always in progress and yet still breaking" (117).

Stone Arabia captures many private moments, private meditations. In this passage, the narrator describes her youthful trips to the clubs with her big brother, Nik. "We don't have sex, not yet, and we rarely drink much or do any drugs . . . We just want to be out and around the sex and drugs, the hip adults; we want to hear the good music, and we want--most of all--to be looked at and desired. We want to feel that desire the way you feel the hot sun burning down on your head. We want it to cover us and make us glow" (231). How to get to the heart of that pre-sexual but sexual line between innocence and experience? Desire is at its heart.

Well, that's just a minor moment. This book captures quite well, I thought, the way the artistic temperament--which does pretty much elude definition--works. The narrator's brother is the novel's centerpiece. Though I was super intrigued by the life of this woman and I thoroughly enjoyed the exposed intimacies of her mind, Nik's music and manipulations are the real focus. What makes one an artist? Is it the fame, the recognition by others, the compulsion to produce art independent of affirmation?

Though I won't reveal the last three lines (but I could without giving away the story), I think Spiotta makes a rather profound connection between desire and artistry.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
Some of the criticisms I've read of this book seem possible- yet- F that. This was a great book: entertaining, poetic, moving. I, for one, did find concern for the characters. These people felt, and you felt for them. Maybe she doesn't give you tons of flesh to sink your lonely, needy teeth into-- but c'mon, how much of an empathic vampire are you? Well, if you do suck fictional blood, maybe you need go elsewhere... certainly enough sustenance for me.

I think it's greatest hits are it's language and it's voice. It's a very conversational, easy, yet, verbally tasty read. I didn't need alot of blather to feel these characters- perhaps because, I too, am of the culture of el rock de roll--- but, if I were to say that this book puts you in a place, a time, a feeling-- these things to me give it real heft-- and this book certainly delivers those things. Dee Dee's detail of experience, and Nik's detail of fantasy and creation-- delivered in Spiotta's deliciousness make this book Worth your time. If you didn't get enough vibes from this book then you're seriously not paying attention. These people are talking to you, without beating you over the head and without banality. If you dig the arts, the need for it despite feedback-- if you just feel the compulsion to revel in your own creativity and are amused to pretend this world cares, or you love someone like this--- then HEY, check this book out. She can write. She can write you in circles. Stiv Stereo might even like this book. Dana Spiotta has something to offer. Don't make her write her own review, but if so, by gawd I hope she writes.

"Pity is simply hate without the respect." -GS -DK -NW -NK -DS
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on August 23, 2011
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
This book was disappointing. Denise and Nik drew me in, but the author did not give them enough attention. Nik's Chronicles and art deserved more development and maybe even illustration. Likewise, Denise's trip to Stone Arabia is intriguing, but undeveloped. In short, the author created very interesting characters, but did not give them their due. The author was also interested in producing a convincing portrait of LA's music scene, but the novel is a mere 256 pages, leaving plenty of space for more character development.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 3, 2014
Format: Paperback
There were a lot of things about this book I enjoyed and my ultimate disappointment with it probably has more to do with me than with the book. I enjoyed the author's use of Nik's sister, Denise, as a narrator, meaning that we are never quite sure what Nik thinks about the imaginary world of rock stardom he has created for himself. I also enjoy that in addition to Nik's constructed memories, the author explores the idea of memory through Nik and Denise's mother's Alzheimer's, Denise's daughter's construction of narrative through her documentary making and Denise's thoughts on public memory through her infatuation with the daily tragedies documented by the 24 news cycle on cable television. I also really enjoyed the author's brief glimpses into the music scene that Nik and Denise were part of in the 1980s.
In the book one of the characters references Henry Darger, (see Henry Darger, Throwaway Boy: The Tragic Life of an Outsider Artist by Jim Elledge) the outsider artist who created an invented world about the Vivian Girls. Darger may have been mentally ill or may have been a misunderstood genius who was dismissed during his lifetime because of his oddities. I think I was hoping that Nik would turn out to be more like Darger and that the story would lead into a discovery that Nik had lost the barriers between reality and his Chronicles. But it is probably unfair to judge a very good book because it doesn't take the path you wanted it to. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is curious about the idea of memory and unreliable narrators as well as anyone interested in the music scene of LA in the 1980s.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on December 27, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Middle-aged Denise is afraid that she, like her mother, is starting to lose her memory. Her older brother, Nik, has no such concern, since he creates his own past as he goes. In reality, thirty-odd years ago, Nik had near miss with rock and roll fame. Since then, he has kept an elaborate work called The Chronicles, where he documents a fictional career of fame and riches. It's complete with CDs that Nik has recorded either by himself or with an imaginary band, complete with imaginary band-mates with their own personalities and biographies. The Chronicle has liner notes, reviews, fan letters, and interviews, all of it composed and painstakingly produced by Nik. Things begin to unravel for him, though, when Denise's adult daughter begins work on a documentary of Nik and The Chronicles.

Just as Nik lives through his fictional documentation of himself and spends much less time and effort in the world that you and I share, so Denise spends vast amounts of time online, getting vicarious emotional experiences from tragedies that she seeks out on the Internet. It's a sad meditation on how old habits inform and constrict people's emotional life. It would probably be quite depressing if Spiotta wasn't such a great writer. She can take very mundane things and fill them with a tremendous amount of meaning. Here is an example where Denise is talking with her daughter Ada over a glass of wine.

Ada took a sip of her pink wine. She took a drag off her cigarette. I know this is an awful thing to say about your kid, but she looked good with a cigarette. I thought this, even knowing how my brother fell into long hawking fits every morning. And coughing fits throughout the day. Bronchitis every winter. But when a young person smokes, it is different. It just underlines their excess life. It looks appealing and reminds you they feel as if they have life to spare. They have such luxury of time that they can flirt with lethal addictions. They have plenty of time to heal and repair later. A young woman like Ada would eventually discard these things. When you are old, like Nik, when it is a very old habit, smoking looks mostly like a reckless delusion. But for Ada it was an abundance, a kind of fun, a kick off of a shoe, a sip of pink champagne.

I would recommend this to anyone who enjoyed Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 2, 2012
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I was disappointed in Stone Arabia. I now see that Amazon says people who bought this book also bought "Open City" by Cole - for me, one of my least satisfying reads of 2012. I'm not sure which of the following reasons was uppermost in why this "didn't work" for me: lack of plot movement or development; an odd lack of character development - probably due to the fact that there's not any dialog in this book; and the shift from first to third person. . .some books can be epistolary and work well. . . but this one just seemed to lack any one thing that would compel me to finish it. Finish it - I did - because my book club selected this book. . .otherwise I'd have gone with Nancy Pearl's (author of Book Lust) formula: . . .if a book hasn't hooked you by the time you reach page (100 minus your age). . .you can give it up! I have no idea how much of my reaction is that maybe I'm just not in the targeted age group for this book. . .others said - it's like "Goon Squad" - but hey that's much better!!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 31, 2013
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
I had just heard Dana Spiotta read from this novel at AWP, the huge writiers' conference which was held in Boston a few weeks ago. She was on stage with the very famous Don DeLillo, one of her mentors, so I joined the throng to hear DeLillo read. I'd never heard of Spiotta. The portion she read from Stone Arabia was brilliant, and she was such an articulate speaker, I immediately downloaded the book and assumed that I would have a new favorite author. Written in a fictionalized memoir form, the book was 'tell don't show'," which would have been alright, except it never really took off for me. It was tender in its depiction of sibling guilt and the ambiguity of life and all that entails, but I still need form, I still need a book to peak, I still need more consolidated resolution. Call me old fashioned, but I have read other younger writers lately and I find this lack of form in other's work as well.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 11, 2012
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
After seeing that Stone Arabia was named one of the NY Times 100 Notable Books of 2011 and hearing gushing recommendations from so many people, I picked it up this weekend and finished it in almost one sitting. I was not at all dissapointed. Dana Spiotta crafts a story told by Denise--a middle aged, lightly employed woman who has a brother Nik who is similarly lightly famous (at least in a few people's eyes) for music he recorded via a number of not so recognized bands over the course of 20 albums and 30 or so years. Denise's daughter Ada the product of a few-night stand many years ago decides to make a movie about Nik's "career" and his recording of the "Chronicles" of his life. This leads to much worry on the part of Denise who is concerned about Nik's already fragile ego and alcoholic tendencies. A very good book that exposes sibling relationships at its rawest.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 9, 2014
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
After reading an ecstatic review of this novel in a literary journal, I bought it with high hopes. In fact, I bought two copies, one for me and one for my wife, so that we could read it together and discuss it afterwards. I write my own songs and make my own CDs, so I was intrigued by the idea of someone who lives in a fantasy world about his music. Unfortunately, this character never took shape for me. My wife's reaction after she finished the book: "Do we really have to talk about it? I don't have much to say." Incidentally, the next book we read together was Anne Proulx's "Close Range," a collection of Wyoming short stories, which includes "Brokeback Mountain." Those stories are full of life--crazy characters, amazing dialogue, heartbreak galore but so much zest. Sorry, but I can't say the same about "Stone Arabia."
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon April 27, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Literary novels can concentrate on the lives of characters in ways that lead readers to deep insights into our human condition. Dana Spiotta's novel, Stone Arabia, performs that feat with skill and efficiency over the course of about 250 pages. The protagonists are siblings, Denise and Nik, and while this sibling relationship provides context, what Spiotta explores are the ways in which awareness can lead to isolation, especially when it comes to our knowledge of world events. Anyone who has experienced difficult and challenging relationships, particularly with close family members, will find Spiotta's sensitive treatment of these relationships to be sensitive and profound. Readers who enjoy fine writing should pick up this novel.

Rating: Four-star (Highly Recommended)
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