Book: No Alternative
Author: William Dickerson
Published: April 5, 2012 by Kettle of Letters Press
First Line: “Suicide is a universally human phenomenon.”
Rating: 5/5 Stewart Copeland Tama Signature Snare Drums
(A review copy was provided by the author.)
No Alternative is one of those sparkling little independent gems that makes you want to stand up celebrate your literacy….with cake and punch.
Perhaps I feel that way because it’s my kind of read. Or perhaps it’s just a damn brilliant little book, The subject of music in novels, particularly rock, does tend to thrill me, possibly because it delineates bits and pieces of my own experience. And possibly because it’s so rare. I can name, off the top of my head, only two other books that used rock as a theme.
Music is only a vehicle for this book. It is far less about grunge or punk or rap than it is about why this music bubbles to the surface of society the way it does, why it takes hold of you as a teen and becomes a way of life. It isn’t about the music itself, it’s about why we listen to it, how it makes us all feel a little less fragile in a great big scary world, and why we feel so fragile to begin with–ideas that Mr. Dickerson has hidden underneath his, I suspect, deliberately misleading synopsis. While the book takes place in 1994, some months after Kurt Cobain’s death, it serves only as a focal point; Cobain’s spirit serves as a sort of guide. Not in the sense that he’s a character in the book, just as something you’ll keep in the back of your mind as you read. It doesn’t really matter if you’re a child of the ’60s, ’70s, ’80′s, or ’90s, this book will speak to you. The guiding spirit could just as easily be Hendrix or Morrison. As I said, it’s not about the music, it’s about why we need it.
I wont say more than that since this is one of those books where the experience would be ruined by even the most inadvertent of spoilers. And, speaking briefly of spoilers, I should warn you that if you decide to get your mitts on this book and happen to stroll off to Amazon to acquire it, do not, I repeat, DO NOT read the reviews of it therein, unless you enjoy having the whole of a book handed to you on a plate before you even ‘go to checkout’. This is a book that would particularly suffer from any in-depth review. (Cretins. What IS the damn point of reading a book like this, a book that can so adroitly fuck with your perceptions, if some idiot ‘helpfully’ gives you a goddamn book report on it that includes the whole damn plot?) I can be only thankful that I read these silly reviews after I finished it and not before. Go into it cold, people. Trust me, you’ll enjoy it far more.
But now, let’s leave the story, and plots, and stupid reviews, and go briefly to the nuts and bolts of the book.
Characters: every one etched with the brutal clarity of a razor blade and shining as bright as a diamond. These characters breathe. You’ve met them. Convincing, compelling, they are about as real as fictional characters can get.
Humor: sad and cynical, and often painful.
Writing: direct, sympathetic, and not a little cunning. My emotions were engaged from the first line (in fact, the first line pissed me off) and didn’t let up once til the end and all without making me feel as if I were being blatantly manipulated. That’s a personal pet peeve of mine, one that would likely make a good topic for Reading Rage. I don’t like it when my emotions are being jerked around in an obvious way, which Mr. Dickerson does not do. He writes his story and leaves it up to you to feel. Or not. But I did say he was cunning, yes? You won’t notice it though, not til the end.
And when you finish No Alternative, I predict that, as I did myself, you’ll go back to page one and read it all over again.