Sunday, August 7, 2011

"My Favorite Band Does Not Exist," by Robert Jeschonek

"My Favorite Band Does Not Exist," (MFBDNE) tracks the progress of two young men, one who has a complex about being controlled by others, the second fearful of failure.

They are unfamiliar with one another, but Idea Deity has confected a fake band over the Internet that has gone viral, at the very same time Reacher Mirage's rockin' combo is rehearsing under THE VERY SAME NAME.

Author Robert Jeschonek has gone Yin-and-Yang, sun-and-moon, night-and-day, complete-me-complete-you in a text that fully embraces dualism and puts his protagonists on a track towards unity. It's for their own good and for the good of the "chain of realities," or something like that.

Their progress is aided by two sprightly girls, each with a tattoo of the other's face on the back of her head. Jumping back between Reacher's and Idea's stories, MFBDNE also inter-cuts with a novel both men are simultaneously reading called "Fireskull's Revenant."

It would result in a spoiler to say anything more than that the protagonists' fates are inextricably mixed with the two comic book-style characters, Lord Fireskull and Johnny Without, the author fashions in some alternate reality.

Follow? It's not that complicated really. MFBDNE is nothing if not a smooth read.

Mr. Jeschonek's background includes turns as a writer of the Pocket Book "Star Trek" series, podcasts, a Twitter serial, and work for D.C. comics. His first novel follows in the same vein.

There is just enough characterization to make this a novel and something other than a comic-book-in-text. Jeschonek's little machine of counterweights inter-spliced with a metaphor-laden fantasy book drives itself nicely.

He even takes Miguel Unamuno's "Abel Sanchez" a step further, empowering Idea, as character, to rebel against the intentions of his creator/author and choose a proper destiny.

For all its cartoon-like pyrotechnics, MFBDNE is mostly an oneiric yarn concerned with interior lives of its primary subjects.

The test for individual readers will be whether they care if Idea and Reacher resolve their inner conflicts. It's highwayscribery's guess younger readers will while their elders shrug.

Don't let the edgy, punky cover fool you. Jeschonek's are straight ahead, white-bread prose that take no chances and break no new ground.

That said, he writes the heck out of his story, fully developing his many threads, punching up his yarn in every sentence, and with every named character, so that nothing seems lazy or unnecessary to the piece. It is hard not to be pulled along by the writer's exuberance, as he barrles forward, tongue ever in cheek, playfully approaching his task.

"My Favorite Band Does Not Exist," is meant for the denizens of the younger generation currently afoot and, perhaps, for those who want to understand something of their reality.

"Ten Thousand Saints" by Eleanor Henderson

A good and quick way of describing "Ten Thousand Saints," would be to call it a bohemian consort to Jonathan Franzen's "Freedom."

The Berglunds, Franzen's vehicle for sifting and weighing distinct facets of contemporary American life are troubled and wacky (like all of us). But they have college degrees, own a sweet house, and (on and off) hold jobs that exceed the value of their pedigrees.

They are quintessentials (made-up word) woven from the American myth, strivers on a mad lurch upward, their familial idiosyncrasies pushing and pulling.

The parents in Eleanor Henderson's novel, by way of contrast, are pot-smokers/dealers, glass bong-blowers or long-departed.

Two of the kids in the cast, Teddy and Jude, engage in youthful tomfoolery such as snorting industrial compounds, and well, stuff so inane that Henderson's acknowledgements inform her son that he can "do anything but don't ever do any of the stupid things in this book."

Teddy dies (not a spoiler but forecast in the book's opening sentence) while they are inhaling something out of an air conditioner duct in the freezing Vermont night.

Before he did that though, Teddy had sex with Jude's step-sister, Eliza, and impregnated her.

The loss of a beloved friend and brother spurs Jude, and Teddy's senior sibling Johnny, to form a protective cloister around Eliza and nurture her to delivery.

That's your story. It moves from Vermont to New York, where Johnny and Eliza already live anyway, and situates them in the "straight edge" movement clustering throughout Alphabet City, Manhattan, in the late 1980s.

A plan is cooked-up whereby Johnny claims paternity and marries Eliza as a legal and tender way of keeping parents, grandparents and state agencies from assuming their traditional roles in the lives of confused teen-aged moms.

They form a band, The Green Mountain Boys. After running afoul of some local toughs back in Vermont, a van tour is launched, second rate venues played, and junk food imbibed on the open American road.

Sex, spirits and narcotics, are eschewed because that's the "straight edge" credo, perhaps at the story's expense.

There is something monkish about the trio that makes them not very much fun to follow, despite their admirable do-it-yourself musicianship and earnest efforts at hacking a unique path for themselves through the complex new world of maturity.

They take a shot at the open road, another American myth; The one that says somewhere in all that vastness, there is a place better than where I'm at.

"It was ten o'clock in the morning, and it was summer, and these were the best years of their lives, and they were crossing George Washington Bridge, the Hudson a spangled blue ribbon laced through it.

"On the boom box that served as car stereo was the new album by Side By Side, with whom they had just performed; behind Jude were one thousand copies of their own seven-inch record, which had just been pressed in Haworth, New Jersey, and released on Green Mountain Recordings, the label Delph had produced out of thin air."

Here, that myth is either false or a thing of the past.

The kids can't seem to escape their parents, bouncing between them, renewing entanglements. Yes they've made the big jump to The Big Town, but Les, Jude's pot-smoking dad is there, along with Eliza's overweening mom, Di.

"Ten Thousand Saints" is very nicely written by a woman with all the academic bona fides of today's top publishing recruit, but readers may split on whether the talent might have been lavished on something other than a brief bohemian idyll in Manhattan of some less-than-inspiring youths.