I love rock & roll. I adore Michael Schaub. I love to read. So last month when he listed his five favorite rock & roll novels, I tossed up some heavy metal fingers and shouted “fuck yeah” while I surfed up Amazon and promptly purchased a used copy of Pagan Kennedy’s The Exes.
If you thought throwing all those things I love into one book would be a rock&roll loving booknerd’s nirvana, you would be wrong. The Exes is one of those books that falls firmly in the middle of ‘it’s all right.” While I enjoyed reading it, I can already tell that it will not be one those books that sticks with me for very long.
Kennedy does an excellent job at creating interesting characters. First you have Hank, the High-Fidelityesque Boston record store clerk/music snob who burns through local bands quicker than that time Collective Soul was popular. He’s recently broke up with Lilly, and art student who has just begun to play the guitar. After their break-up the decide that while they don’t perform so well romantically, they make beautiful music together. They decide that their band will have a gimmick, that being all the member must be exes, and set out to recruit the Shaz, the bisexual bass playing genius, who brings along drummer Walt, a depressed grad student who dropped out of Harvard to spend some time in a mental hospital.
The book, which is labeled a novel, is told in four chapters — one from each of the band member’s point of view. It doesn’t feel like a novel. I cannot find a plot that binds these four chapters together. There is nothing here compelling a central story forward. It feels like four loosely joined novellas featuring the same characters, each chapter taking place shortly after the chapter before.
While the writing is good, strong, the lack of a plot makes the book feel insubstantial. Kennedy does a great job of conjuring up Boston of the mid-90s — from the music (she names drops Red Kross and made my heart soar), to the clothes, to the whole vibe the characters have feels very 90s, and I loved that. I just wish they had a bigger story they were telling.
So yeah, I liked this book okay. It’s very slice of life, which means it’s nice writing and interesting while you’re reading it but it won’t rock your world.