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Stone Arabia by Dana Spiotta

Praise

“Stone Arabia possesses the edged beauty and charged prose of Dana Spiotta’s earlier work, but in this novel about siblings, music, teen desire and adult decay, Spiotta reaches ever deeper, tracking her characters’ sweet, dangerous American dreaming with glorious

precision. Here is a wonderful novel by one of our major writers.”–Sam Lipsyte, author of

The Ask

“I read Stone Arabia avidly and with awe. The language of it, the whole Gnostic hipness of it is absolutely riveting. It comes together in the most artful, surprising, insistent, satisfying way. Dana Spiotta is a major, unnervingly intelligent writer.”—Joy Williams, author of The Quick and the Dead

“Stone Arabia is a rock n’ roll novel like no other. Where desire for legacy tangles with fantasy. And identity and memory are in and out of control. A loser’s game of conceit, deceit, passion, love and the raw mystery of superstar desire.”—Thurston Moore

“Added to the brilliant glitter of Ms. Spiotta’s earlier work – so reminiscent, at times, of early Don DeLillo and early Joan Didion – is something deeper and sadder: not just alienation, but a hard-won awareness of mortality and passing time… both a clever meditation on the feedback loop between life and art, and a moving portrait of a brother and sister, whose wild youth on the margins of the rock scene has given way to the disillusionments and vexations of middle age.”—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“Stone Arabia is a collage of discursive textures, a polyphonic meditation on epistemology… It is a smart, subtle, moving story about the complicated business of knowing the people you love.”—Matthew Sharpe, Bookforum

“The book maps a post-punk milieu where the sense of completeness punk offered… never goes away. Spiotta can capture whole lives in the most ordinary transaction, and make it cut like X’s ‘Los Angeles’ or the Avengers’ ‘Car Crash.’—Greil Marcus, The Believer

“Evocative, mysterious, incongruously poetic…gritty, intelligent, mordent, and deeply sad…Spiotta has created, in Stone Arabia, a work of visceral honesty and real beauty.”—The New York Times Book Review

“With a DeLillo-like ability to pinpoint the delusions of an era, the National Book Award-nominated Spiotta explores the inner workings of celebrity, family, and other modern-day mythologies.”–Vogue

“Dana Spiotta’s stunning, virtuoso novel Stone Arabia plays out the A and B sides of a sibling bond between a brother—now a reclusive middle-aged musician who, seeing his shot at rock superstardom burn out, obsesses over his scrap-books, a fantasy version of his career—and his idolizing younger sister and enabler, now a mom, who strives for family harmony.”—Vanity Fair

“There’s a fine tradition of pop-music novels, and Stone Arabia joins the genre’s upper echelons with this transfixing story… It’s as though Nabokov had written a rock novel.”—Entertainment Weekly

Book Description

Stone Arabia, Dana Spiotta’s moving and intrepid third novel, is about family, obsession, memory, and the urge to create—in isolation, at the margins of our winner-take-all culture.

In the sibling relationship, “there are no first impressions, no seductions, no getting to know each other,” says Denise Kranis. For her and her brother, Nik, now in their forties, no relationship is more significant. They grew up in Los Angeles in the late seventies and early eighties. Nik was always the artist, always wrote music, always had a band. Now he makes his art in private, obsessively documenting the work, but never testing it in the world. Denise remains Nik’s most passionate and acute audience, sometimes his only audience. She is also her family’s first defense against the world’s fragility. Friends die, their mother’s memory and mind unravel, and the news of global catastrophe and individual tragedy haunts Denise. When her daughter, Ada, decides to make a film about Nik, everyone’s vulnerabilities seem to escalate.

Dana Spiotta has established herself as a “singularly powerful and provocative writer” (The Boston Globe) whose work is fiercely original. Stone Arabia—riveting, unnerving, and strangely beautiful—reexamines what it means to be an artist and redefines the ties that bind.

My Review

Some really nice writing, the story flows well and touches many issues of the modern era.
The protagonist Denise rambles on life, the bubble around here brother Nik the music artist and her mother Ada who is slowly heading down the Dementia road.
The story includes real news headlines from timeline of 1978 to 2004 and the protagonist take on it and her heart felt view on matters. Lots of family stuff what could have been what’s liked and disliked.
This book takes me back to Freedom by Franzen, but Spiotta connections better with Denise’s plight with the world around her, philosophical, intelligent and witty. The book’s ending could be better but I think the writer knows better than me the plotting of her story. That brings on a thought can perfection lead to insanity if you don’t balance the scales in life.

Excerpts

“Written words demand the deep attention that spoken words just aren’t entitled to. Writers get to pull something solid out of our relentless, everyday production of verbal mucilage. A writer is a word salvager and scavenger and distiller.”

“I have discovered how much memory can dissolve under pressure. The more I try to hold on to my ability to remember, the more it seems to escape my grasp.
I find this terrifying. I have become alarmed at my inability to recall basic facts of the past, and I have worked to improve things. I have been studying various techniques and even tricks, and I should employ them. Memory, it seems, clings to things. Named things. Spaces. Senses.”

“I believe I know that photos have actually destroyed our memories. Every time we take a photograph, we forget to embed things in our minds, in our actual brain cells. The taking of the photograph gets us off the hook, in a way, from trying to remember. I’ll take a photo so I can remember this moment. But what you are actually doing is leaving it out of your brain’s jurisdiction and relying on Polaroid’s, Kodak paper, little disintegrating squares glued in albums.”

“When I think of my family, I think that our history really lives in our bodies. The mind distorts and fails, but the body endures until it doesn’t, and up until that moment it held it all. I knew that when she died, it would be her body I would remember, her physical presence, and to recall any part of her body her smell, her hair would make me weep and grieve for her.”

“The Beslan School broke her open, but what purpose did it serve? What was a person supposed to do with all of this feeling? Feeling nothing was subhuman, but feeling everything, like this, in a dark room in the middle of the night, by yourself, did no one any good. Certainly not Denise, who held her head and wept, and watched two hours of breaking, beating new coverage. Of children and blood and chaos. Each possibility, not feeling or feeling, each response was inadequate.
The worst part would come tomorrow, when they repeated these images over and over; or the day after, when the world out there would move to the next thing, the next terrifying and electrifying and stupefying thing. Are we supposed to forget? If not forget, then what?”

Reviewed by Lou Pendergrast on 28 July 2011

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    'Stone Arabia': The Cost Of Artistic Commitment by MAUREEN CORRIGAN

    ‘Stone Arabia’: The Cost Of Artistic Commitment
    by MAUREEN CORRIGAN

    Taken from http://www.npr.org/2011/07/25/138466786/stone-arabia-the-cost-of-artistic-commitment

    One summer, when I was in high school, I took a fiction writing course at The New School in New York; the most valuable thing I learned there was the golden rule of creative writing: “Don’t quit your day job.” Of course, lots of writers, as well as artists and musicians, ignore that practical wisdom: they gamble all on their artistic visions. We applaud the Patti Smiths and Robert Mapplethorpes; the Emily Dickinsons and John Kennedy Tooles who obsessively forge ahead, because, as it’s turned out, their belief in their own gifts has been validated by history. But what about those other folks you never hear about? The ones who don’t make it? — the “no hit wonders,” “the road kill,” as Dana Spiotta sadly refers to them in her latest novel. Should we admire them, too? Or are artists and writers who lose themselves in their art, yet never find an audience, merely losers?
    That’s a big question at the center of Spiotta’s smart new novel, Stone Arabia. Critics often use adjectives like “smart,” “brilliant” and “intelligent” to refer to Spiotta’s work because she tackles philosophical subjects in an edgy collage-type style that jumbles together time frames and narrative modes. She even throws around words like “ontological.” If all that sounds off-putting, be assured that Spiotta’s novels are post-modern without the chill: character development and the spiky nuances of family relationships are always a central concern. As much as we’re invited, in Stone Arabia, to meditate on the value of the art of

    Nik Worth, the aging non-starter rock ‘n’ roller who’s one of the main characters here, we’re also caught up in the emotional toll his obsessions exact on his sister, Denise. There’s almost always a Denise in the life of an “art-for-art’s sake” artist, the mother, partner or family member who’s grounded enough to worry; the one who comes up with the money for rent and food.
    Denise has been Nik’s number one fan (and, largely, his only one) since they were teenagers. Nik is a guitarist/songwriter who’s played in a few bands and almost got a record deal decades ago. Now, closing in on 50, he bartends part-time and, as Denise puts it, has generally “pursued a lifetime of abuse that could only come from a warped relationship with the future.” The thing that really makes Nik special is his music, which is akin to that fabled tree in the forest that falls and no one hears. Nik has documented his career — or is it a career? — in his other life’s work, something called The Chronicles.
    The Chronicles are 30 or so volumes that stretch from 1978 to 2004 and document Nik’s music, including reviews — all of which Nik has written himself under many different aliases. Here’s a brief section from Denise’s pages-long description of how The Chronicles work:

    “Nik’s Chronicles adhered to the facts and then didn’t. When Nik’s dog died in real life, his dog died in The Chronicles. But in The Chronicles he got a big funeral and a tribute album. Fans sent thousands of condolence cards. But it wasn’t always clear what was conjured. The music for the tribute album for the dog actually exists, as does the cover art for it … But the fan letters didn’t exist. In this way Nik chronicled his years in minute- but-twisted detail.”
    You could imagine someone discovering The Chronicles 100 years from now and heralding Nik as some outsider-artist genius; or, just as plausibly, you could consider The Chronicles as a testament to a wasted life; the work of a troubled mind. Or
    both. Stone Arabia evades answers and instead encourages an open-minded blurring of the lines between lived experience and fantasy; art which is authorized vs. art which is un-vetted. The form of this novel itself revels in the confusion: Stone Arabia juggles letters and diary entries; CD liner notes and obituaries — some false, some all too true.
    This is a powerful novel about responsibility: the responsibility artists have to their art; the responsibility family members have to take care of each other. It’s only flaw — and I would be irresponsible if I didn’t mention it — is its ending, which feels at once improbable and weak. But, overall Stone Arabia should make its readers grateful that Spiotta herself isn’t one of those outsider unpublished visionaries whose life she imagines here with such compassion and verve.