No Alternative

By William Dickerson

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

IR Verdict: Pungent insights and quotable dialogue abound in this novel, which, in the end, movingly dramatizes the ability of art to transcend death and other human tragedies.

Book Reviews, eBooks, Literary Fiction  •  Dec 04, 2012

 

Living in the shadow cast by the suicide of Kurt Cobain, 17-year-old Thomas Harrison is a typical teenager growing up in Yonkers, New York in the early 1990s.  At home, he feels alienated from his ex-Green Beret father, William, and former hippie painter mother, Maureen.  He attends Fordham Prep, but spends his spare time dropping acid, drinking beer, trying to get laid with available younger girls, and, with his friends, forming a grunge band, Latterday Saints, for which he plays the drums.  Improbably, after submitting a demo recording, the band is invited to CBGB’s to compete in a Battle of the Unsigned Bands Contest.

Approximately three-quarters of the way through the novel, though, a plot twist occurs that some readers will appreciate, while others will outright reject.  The event in question does not seem totally prepared for by the author, calling into questions this narrative strategy.  And yet, without giving things away, the author does manage to switch deftly from the third person to the first to make this unexpected surprise pay off in the most dramatic way possible for his characters.

The author has written a novel about the nineties that feels true in all its period details, from Howard Stern on K-ROCK to “Free O.J.” t-shirts.  The characters are all vivid and original creations, especially Thomas’ younger sister, Bridget, a manic-depressive who dreams of being a gangsta rapper.  The author constantly interrupts his narrative with riffs on everything from suicide and Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative to the use of color in advertising strategies and the difference between Chuck Taylor and Jack Purcell sneakers.

Pungent insights and quotable dialogue abound in this novel, which, in the end, movingly dramatizes the ability of art to transcend death and other human tragedies.

Reviewed by Kenneth Salikof for IndieReader