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America the Beautiful: A Novel Paperback – September 11, 2001
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Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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- Judith Kicinski, Sarah Lawrence Coll., Bronxville, NY
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I give the book three stars instead of four because of that inconsistency. The writing and story is good, and I think the blurbs on the back cover about Moon being a "fresh voice" are legit praise. There were times though that the character thought and did things that just felt unreal and it occasionally jarred me out of the page. Again I disclaim it could be that I can't relate to the L.A. state of mind, and happily offer that it could be that it is written from such a woman's perspective (glurp...that bit was great) that I might be missing some of it because I don't have enough of an understanding of the opposite sex! I am looking forward to Moon's next work and am also looking forward to loaning this book to my female friends and seeing if they have a different perspective on it.
One big note: I'm a Zappa fan, but I don't necessarily recommend that Zappa freaks buy this book just because "Zappa" is on the cover. This is Moon, not Frank. I've seen Moon on a couple of TV appearances, listened to some interviews and read some of her magazine writing. I've come to enjoy her for her own sake, especially her easy sense of humor and delight. This is so even though I do I think I initially sought her out on TV and such because of the family association. I think it's important to come to the book to enjoy Moon for her own sake instead of interpreting the book as a thinly vieled Tell-All. Moon has said that there are autobiographical elements in the book and further that she set up certain situations to vent about aspects of growing up in a celebrity household, but I think it's fair to say that's as far as it goes. It's fiction, and pretty good fiction at that.
I've never read anything that is classified as "Chick Lit" but I think this would probably count. It's a book about a young woman, America Throne, daughter of the famous artist and writer Boris Throne, deceased. America is looking for love, trying to figure out her life, trying to get over an abrupt break-up initiated by her douchey artist boyfriend, trying to get over the death of her often distant and philandering father, trying to deal with her bizarre mother, and so on, and so forth. Told by America, this is the story of a young woman's existential crisis in a pop culture, superficial age. In Los Angeles.
The reason I say it could probably be considered "Chick Lit" (and I'm not using that term negatively, nor do I wish to get into a debate about gender bias in the literary world) is because, well, everything I said above: it's a woman obsessing over "affairs of the heart," wondering when she'll find true love, dealing with daddy issues, the whole nine-yards. In a way, it's pretty cliche. BUT, Moon Zappa is a pretty decent writer. There's a lot of humor, some witty observations, clever and skewed ways of looking at the world... It's definitely "light" fiction, but it isn't crap the way, say, your average dime-store harlequin romance novel is a pile of crap (and yes, they are crap in every way, I will not back down from that statement). Rather than being escapist fiction for bored, sad, lonely, and low-brow housewives, this is escapist fiction for intelligent, literary indie chicks -- see the promo quotes on the cover from Janeane Garafolo and Alanis Morrissette. It's not a book I will read again, but it was an entertaining diversion. Just not really interesting beyond a quick read through.
Now, to deal with the elephant in the room: autobiography or not? Moon has been pretty adamant about saying, "this book is NOT autobiography. My family is not like this, my dad was not like this." I'm inclined to believe that is basically true, but clearly she drew on her life for inspiration and raw material. I think, though, it was more on the order of using the structure of her life -- famous dad, strange name, oddly psuedo-public life in the world of the semi-famous, strains of trying to figure out your own path in the shadow of a famous father -- and reimagined it. I don't think, for example, that Moon's childhood was much like the childhood of her character, but I'm sure the odd incident or two made its way into the book. That is, after all, what writers do, and even autobiography is a fictional construction. Of course, the other reason why I doubt that the book is a memoir in disguise is because of Gail Zappa and the Zappa Family Trust. The Zappas, led primarily by Gail (Frank's widow) have been pretty protective of Frank's legacy since his death, and I really doubt Gail or even Moon would want to publish something that cast him in a negative light or portrayed him as a distant father, philandering husband, self-obsessed artist using everyone around him as part of his work. Ever since Frank became something of a public/political figure in the 80s, one of the family's main emphases has been that while he may have been a composer of eccentric, satirical, and often extremely dirty music, he was also a devoted family man.
Anyway, tangent... To Frank Zappa fans: you probably won't be that interested in this book for its literary merits, unless you're into above-average, intelligently written rom-com stuff. If you're interested in it for dirt on the Zappa family, look elsewhere also. If you are the target audience for this, however, which I think would be middle/upper class women aged 21-35, you may dig it. You're not going to get any new insights about life and love, but you'll laugh some.