I feel the book description doesn’t accurately describe what you’re getting into.
The story follows Anna, a former rock artist, not necessarily a rockstar. I’d possibly compare her to my generation’s Semisonic or Spacehog. Not sound wise, but in terms of one hit wonders being their claim to fame. Anna is on her fourth tour, Wonderland, & she’s put all her money into this second shot at…something. Fame? Happiness? She seems like she’s searching for something to give her meaning. I really loved her. Wonderland is very character dependent, & if you don’t love Anna I don’t think you’ll enjoy it very much. But I have a thing for self-destructive, red-headed females so…
There’s a lot of switching between her earlier & later years, but the time was always made clear within the first few sentences somehow. Through these, you get a lot of her unfinished connections with her family, with men, & with herself (I love the image of the hundred girls poised with tiny hammers).
Anna comes from a bit of a gypsy background. She has artists for parents & a strained relationship with her sister. I feel like a lot of us know somebody like them. That girl, who would sail a ship in around St. Lucia, visit her father in Cannes, & be back in time for her pottery project by Monday. I would’ve read a whole story about her childhood, but we only get a few of her reminiscent memories, reflections, & flashbacks. Some are addressed to her sister, or from her father’s POV. Some are more interesting to read than others.
There’s a fair amount of drugs. If you’re a reader who thinks stories that have drug use in them need to discourage the reader from using them, I wouldn’t suggest this book. The narration is awesome in these coke-induced parts though. They have the same level of heightened focus as the parts where Anna is getting into some type of musical zone. At one point Anna & her former band are walking through a forest listening to deers having sex (just go with it, trust me) in search for their perfect sound to make their new album work (this dream vision deer thing reminded me a bit of Birdman). These parts were fun & believable. I enjoy camaraderie among those who feel lost or reckless.
D’Erasmo wants you to feel the magic that Anna is feeling, a lot of the times she succeeds. I really enjoyed when Anna & her band would hit that special feeling on stage. However, other times it falls flat. Such as when Anna is walking in a circle with a fellow musician Billy Q? Clearly I did not understand the importance of this part. It felt pretentious & boring.
A lot of the character description was overdone. “Billy, black-coated, yellow-legged, pink-footed, rubber-bonneted, walks in a large circle.” This kind of round-up description works with the style, but just isn’t my thing. There was an emphasis on the characters’ clothes. And their defining features were repeated several times. While this does help you to keep track of the characters, it got a bit annoying.
The dialogue is spot on. Anna’s thoughts are interesting. We’re able to get in her head a lot, but still see how other characters in the story view her.
The depiction of each European city made me want to travel there. When one band member, Alicia exclaims a need to try some of the risotto in Italy, I was immediately sent back to when I visited Rome. So the different locations were wonderfully rendered.
The sex scenes are perfection. If you read Fifty Shades of Grey & tell me those are good sex scenes, you need to pick this book up & read how actual sex scenes should be written. Some are romantic, some are primal, but all of them are told in a way both sharp & beautiful.
There was a great deal about art. False art vs true art, & what that means. It was also had a bit of a commentary to offer on Americans, since the majority of the main characters are Americans in Europe. As a result of this, I think there’s a lot of questioning about freedom & choices, the different paths Anna’s life can take. I don’t want to spoil too much, but a lot of these scenes come out of her relationship with her father. A major art project he was unable to accomplish was cutting a prison in half. If this doesn’t say a lot about freedom & art then I don’t know what does. To borrow D’Erasmo’s own quote used by a character to describe Anna, “her play seems to hint at a larger truth about the illusions of the visible world.”
The writing is paced like music. The intense things are told with incredibly focused statements. While others happen in quick, long bursts. They rush through, sentence after sentence, diminishing their validity. It was like watching an action scene, but D’Erasmo was describing Anna’s everyday life. It was both sparse & long winded, if that makes any sense.
I really enjoyed this story. While I do think having a love of (especially live) music helps, I think I really loved it because I wanted things to work out for Anna. She felt like a real person, just trying to get something out of life. And it shows how messy life can get when you want more. It wasn’t perfect, but I like it just as it is.
Some quotes I loved:
“The world is like this, it can kiss you or kill you at any second, & you must never turn away from either possibility.”
“Fans don’t want to hear the song the first time. They want to hear it again, and to know that they’re hearing it again. Maybe that’s the motive for the order of things, that knowing.”
“I am happy. It is a happiness that, if it had a color, would be an almost electric light blue, like the eye of a peacock’s tail. An improbably, excessive, supersaturated blue.”