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For anyone waiting for the publishing industry to embrace the rock novel, 2011 has been a breakout year. First, Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Then this past summer Ecco released Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson, which was just named one of the New York Times‘ 10 Best Books of 2011. Scribner followed with Dana Spiotta’s Stone Arabia, which has been reviewed well across the board, even by me, and it was also named a finalist for the 2011 Nobbies. Each of these novels takes seriously the idea that rock and lit can mix, and each succeeds in its way. Still, I couldn’t help but find something lacking in all of them. All three employ rock and roll as an effective prop or backdrop, but what about rock as the ultimate adolescent dream–the sex, the drugs, the backstage shenanigans–that motivated so many of my and other generations? Each these novels has elements of this, but none tackles it as head-on as Tyler McMahon’s debut How the Mistakes were Made.

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Another year has come and gone, and it’s time once again to present The Nobbies, the official book awards of The Nervous Breakdown.

Below you’ll find this year’s winners, our picks for the best books of 2011.

Congrats to the victors, and their publishers.

And thanks, as always, for reading.

-BL


JR: I was keenly interested in American Subversive as soon as I read the profile in Publishers Weekly.  A book about a subversive American, or someone who wants to rail endlessly against the machine known as modern day society, however you slice it, it’s a lonely occupation.

American Subversive picks up where Sorrentino’s Trance left off a few years ago, but this time it’s not Patty Hearst, it’s another girl name Paige who has lost her brother to the fight over oil, known as the Iraq war.  The voice Goodwillie uses reminds me of Eat the Document, Spiotta’s overlooked masterpiece of a few years ago, basically about a woman on the run for something she did as a young woman (the “oh shit, what have I done? Do I really believe in these ideals… enough to ruin my life story”).  Except where Sorrentino and Spiotta carefully examined these singular lives of radicals, Goodwillie broadens the horizon slightly by offering another voice, that of a blogger named Aidan Cole, who is a lazy drinker (are there any other kind?), commenter on society in Manhattan, circa right now, or a few years in the future.  I liked both Aidan’s voice and Paige’s confessional narrative, they seemed extremely earnest and yet naïve, like they really could change the world, Aidan through the internet, and Paige by joining a group of radicals who were planning on taking the fight to the street, or office buildings of major corporations that have, through capitalism (which is your right to pursue, no matter how you look doing it), wronged the world.

I agree with the author, large companies who have interests that don’t seem to fit the idea of democracy, are ruling the world, in a take no prisoners fashion, the rich get rich, and the poor, well, fuck you.  Make money, and squash employee’s souls, or as the old whorehouse ideal goes, either lie down and get fucked, or get up and leave.  Aidan, through his search for Paige, goes through his life, step by step, and finds that he’s unknowingly already involved, and the further he gets, the worse it gets, and to be honest, isn’t that how life is?  Paige’s life on the run might just be how Aidan’s life was destined to become.  Paige, for all her bravery, and willingness to work with two other patriots, Keith, and Lindsay, reminded me of a school girl who got herself involved with a bad boy, and then when the time came to take off her clothes, she decided she didn’t have the balls.  I didn’t particularly believe in Paige, but I was saddened by what she’d become.  Tearing off through the streets of Manhattan, the wilderness of the northeast, places where the world isn’t really her own, and realizing she will never really matter to anyone, despite her best efforts.  She’s part of something bigger in this book, clearly it’s a “Weatherman” situation that should and can go on for your entire life.  Paige wants to fight the injustices she sees in the world, big business being the offender.  But can she? No matter what she does, big business will always be here.  So we’re supposed to believe that by blowing up office buildings that’s going to right the ship? Like the end of Fight Club, where Tyler blows up all the credit card companies? Giving everyone a clean slate?  Then what? It’s feast or famine, no law, no society? Who will teach our children, wash our clothes, pave the roads, create vaccines?  Aidan, tries to wrap his mind around this idea, and seems to offer little help, except by screwing things up.  There is an innocence lost in this book, Goodwillie delivers a duo that doesn’t know just how manipulated they really are, but makes the reader believe there is a chance, redemption, something good waiting for all the bad spots he puts his characters in.  In the end it’s a fresh take on an old story, which is to say, it’s executed very, very well, and has a wonderful “what happens” next quality to the narrative.  Aidan and Paige seemed real to me, and the way the story progresses, made me feel like they’re still out there somewhere, planning the next “action”.  Or worse…because it can always be worse.  Stay tuned for an interview with David Goodwillie, and his take on the essay, When We Fell In Love.

JR