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Wonderland

Review

Wonderland

Anna Brundage is back on the road again, on a modest European tour ("I was always bigger in Europe, anyway") to promote her new album, Wonderland. But it's been nearly a decade since Anna's first album propelled her (too briefly) into the spotlight, and it's been years since the failure of her second album, not to mention a host of personal problems, forced her to turn her back on the music industry entirely. Since then, she's been teaching carpentry to girls in New York City. While her students have no idea who Anna is, their parents certainly do: "they stop me outside the school to tell me about listening to Whale in their dorm rooms, on their road trips, on the mornings after their raves, how they came out to see me at Irving Place, how closely they listened."

"Throughout the novel, Stacey d'Erasmo's prose is powerful and, at times, astonishingly intricate and lovely."

Like these old fans, transformed from college kids to parents in what seems like the blink of an eye, nothing is quite the same on this latest tour. Anna herself is in her mid-40s, still mourning an abortion she had a decade earlier now that she's having to come to terms with the likelihood that she'll never have children of her own. Her band for this tour is all new, pieced together by her manager. But as they traverse Europe, playing small venues and obscure festivals, Anna encounters figures from her past. Everyone is looking a little worse for the wear after an additional decade of drugs, late nights and poor diets.

Anna's story is told in a fragmented narrative, offering glimpses not only into her comeback tour but also into her earlier success and her struggles to repeat it, her failed relationship with a married man, and even her childhood being raised by creative parents. Her mother was a painter; her father staged massive installations that often involved deconstruction (most famously, sawing a train in half so that part fell off the tracks and crumpled while the rest remained intact). This tension between creativity and (self-) destruction is touched on at numerous points in the narrative. Some chapters are only a paragraph or two long, while others, such as a memorable account of Anna's attempts to find just the right sound for her second album at a chateau in France, read more like self-contained short stories.

Much like a concert tour, one imagines, there's a constant sense at the start of each chapter of disorientation, of not knowing quite where one is right away. Remarkably, though, given the level of fragmentation, the novel does propel the reader forward, accompanying Anna on her journey, even as a family crisis forces her to confront her past in a new way.

Throughout the novel, Stacey d'Erasmo's prose is powerful and, at times, astonishingly intricate and lovely. She writes about music, and about the creation of it, with knowledge and enthusiasm, and Anna's voice --- jaded yet somehow hopeful --- will speak to anyone who has ever grasped at a new beginning while coming to terms with the passage of time. "This is my second chance," Anna reminds herself near the novel's opening. "I won't get a third." This recognition, along with the passionate seizing-of-the-day that follows, offers readers a striking portrait of a different kind of artist --- one for whom the rush of youth has worn off, but whose drive to create endures.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on May 16, 2014

Wonderland
by Stacey D'Erasmo

  • Publication Date: May 6, 2014
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • ISBN-10: 0544074815
  • ISBN-13: 9780544074811