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Customer Review

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Music, memory, and family, September 6, 2011
This review is from: Stone Arabia: A Novel (Hardcover)
Nabokov stated in the first page of his 1961 memoir, Speak, Memory, "...our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness." In Diana Spiotta's new novel, STONE ARABIA, eccentric narcissist, obsessive archivist and iconoclastic musician Nik Kranis mines that fleeting fissure of light and warns his sister, Denise, "Self-curate or disappear."

This nostalgic and affecting story of siblings (and family) is a philosophical meditation on memory and the driven desire for autobiography--to document and render a consequential life, and to assemble disparate experiences into coherent narratives. "And even then," says Denise, "the backward glance is distorted by the lens of the present...It is not just that emotions distort memory. It is that memory distorts memory."

At the vortex of this novel is fifty-year-old Nik Kranis, aka his alter ego, Nik Worth, a pre-punk, no-hit wonder, LA musician, whose band The Fakes almost made it twenty years ago. "Nik had the sensibility down. And Nik had the look down. He was born to look pasty and skinny and angular."

But a combination of self-sabotage and solipsism undermined commercial success, and Nik alternately constructed a legendary career in music via his manufactured narrative, "The Chronicles." Stretching back from1973-2004, "The Chronicles" is a thirty-volume reinvention of a life, a daily scrapbook and fictionalized biography of Nik Worth, platinum rock star. It is a career arc so detailed and spectacular that it would rival Dylan's.

Included in The Chronicles is every band Nik was ever in, every record he ever made, and his solo career, recorded via his twenty-volume "Ontology of Worth." We also get liner notes, reviews (sometimes highly critical and damning, all created from Nik's imagination), obits of former band members, and detailed artwork for every cover. Nik is what we would call a legend in his own mind.

We depend on Denise's shifting narrative modes to trace the authentic Nik, a hermetic, aging, chain-smoking, alcoholic mooch who is blasé about his present decay and his future prospects. "He pursued a lifetime of abuse that could only come from a warped relationship with the future." But even Denise is hooked on Nik's worth as a musician.

The story is narrated largely through Denise's point-of-view, which shifts back and forth from first to third person, and is conveyed like the 80's eclectic music scene, mash-up style, that fans of Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad would appreciate. She's the younger sister and caretaker of the family, and Nik's biggest fan. However, Denise is concerned with exact recall, and is writing "The "Counterchronicles" as counterpoint to Nik's mythical biography, to earnestly document an accurate record of recent events.

Besides Nik, Denise's life orbits around her daughter, Ada, a documentary filmmaker who wants Nik as her next subject; a tepid relationship with boyfriend, Jay, who she sees every two weeks for sex and old movies; and a mother who is suffering from early dementia. Denise is frightened of her own memory loss, convinced that it is imminent and inevitable.

Trebly and anxious, Denise panics vicariously through sordid and tragic news events. External though they are, they penetrate her personal boundaries, leak inside and cause ongoing existential crises. SARS, Abu Ghraib, and a celebrity murder-suicide are but a few of the terrors that invade Denise's psyche. Moreover, Denise and Nik are enmeshed to a degree that "My sister doesn't count as my audience because she feels like an extension of me. She's, well, an alternative version of me."

Spiotta's creamy prose is abundant with quotable lines and arch aphorisms. It is also warm, arresting, emotionally accessible. There isn't much of a plot, but the story is powerful and vibrant, laced with mordant, electric riffs and visceral, melancholy chords.
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Showing 1-9 of 9 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Sep 6, 2011, 4:59:54 AM PDT
J. Grattan says:
I think we would all go nuts if we seriously considered the nanosecond of earth time we will be here, let alone self-curating for other nano-second beings. This Nik cat seems well on the way to nutsville. And his sister is not far behind. So this book is an insighful, worthwhile [5 stars] riff on this scenario? Do we all need to self-curate?

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 6, 2011, 5:05:41 AM PDT
Nik's a narcissist--he can't help himself! Denise is codependent. This all sounds so lame, but Spiotta transcends these human frailties and provides a beautiful meditation on memory.

Bug

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 6, 2011, 10:14:20 AM PDT
Bug, I tried reading this book but couldn't get into it. Bonnie

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 6, 2011, 1:33:12 PM PDT
Bonnie--if you already own it, don't give up. I started it thrice before liking it--as a matter of fact, I initially told Judi I may not be able to get into it. Then, I kept reading. After a chapter and a half, it clicked. And the writing just gets better and better. The reason I implore you to try again is because it has all the elements you love in a book--it is just hidden at the beginning. Don't give up just yet.

Bug

Posted on Sep 8, 2011, 5:32:01 AM PDT
Evie says:
Bug, I don't know if this book calls out to me or not but I do know that this review is magnifico! Damn, girl! You can write! I give your review 5 stars!!! Evalina

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 8, 2011, 5:21:21 PM PDT
Thank you, sweets!! I think you would really like it...

Bug

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 13, 2011, 7:06:01 PM PDT
Bug, As you know, I tried to listen to this on Audible and could not get into it. Perhaps it's a book that has to be read rather than listened to. If you think it would make a huge difference, I'll try reading it. Let me know. Bonnie

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 13, 2011, 7:15:00 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 13, 2011, 7:15:41 PM PDT
Bonnie--of course, I am no expert on audio vs the printed word, but since this doesn't have a plot per se, or a progressing pathway, it seems to me that reading it would be more enjoyable. This is the kind of book that needs to be meditated on.

Now I get why audio books don't do it for me. Part of the reading experience for me is to ponder, consider, meditate on what I am reading. I think audio would be fine for a thriller that isn't multi-layered. But more cerebral books? Definitely the printed word.

Bug

Posted on Dec 16, 2011, 7:46:51 PM PST
[Deleted by the author on Oct 8, 2012, 6:29:19 PM PDT]
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