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Let Go and Go On and On
By Tim Kinsella
Reviewed by Chris Schahfer
I think it's natural for creative types to expand into arts beyond their native ones. I also think it's natural for their fans to be skeptical of those experiments. After all, many musicians have tried their hand at acting, but how many have put on a good performance? So it was with a little trepidation that I approached this novel by Tim Kinsella, an active member of the midwest indie rock scene since his mid-'90s stint with Cap'n Jazz. Granted, his lyrics had always been more literary than most rock musicians', so I knew to expect quality; it's just that I'm sure I'm not the only one surprised by Kinsella's move from music to fiction.
So I'd call this novel a pleasant surprise, which is less a knock at Kinsella and more an acknowledgement of my own biases. The novel discusses the life of Laurie Bird, an obscure actress who only appeared in three films: Two Lane Blacktop, Cockfighter, and, briefly, Annie Hall; in addition, the fourth segment touches on her brief marriage with Art Garfunkel. However, this is no biography: Kinsella instead constructs a life for his subject, treating the events of the three films as though they were her real life and melding them with known biographical details. This means that Kinsella weaves her into the lives of Hollywood b-listers like Harry Dean Stanton, who played minor roles in iconic films, and Sam Peckinpah favorite Warren Oates, as well as musicians of the era such as Two-Lane Blacktop stars James Taylor and Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson, as well as Paul Simon, who had a cameo in Annie Hall.
I'm not entirely sure of how to react to the novel as a whole, but I love the way it's written. Kinsella's language has a strong flow to it, a sense of not just motion but also culmination, and a vividness; he seems equally comfortable with the aimlessness of the Blacktop scenes, the visceral violence of the cockfights, the unrestrained '70s glamour of the last two segments, where Bird goes from the back seats of cars and cheap motel rooms to rubbing elbows with Woody Allen, partying with Ringo Starr, and bumping into Carly Simon as she tries on clothes. Kinsella knows which details will crystallize a scene, often small ones like the color of an article of clothing or the particular Rolling Stones radio. The Rolling Stones are a constant here, a ubiquitous force in this novel.
A couple of things about it, though. For one, it's pretty special interest just by the nature of what it is. If you're not fascinated by '70s Hollywood, if names like Warren Oates and Harry Dean Stanton don't mean a thing to you, I'm unsure how much you'll get out of this. That probably goes hand in hand with the occasional directionlessness of the novel. When Kinsella's focused, and he's mostly focused, there's a nice sense of slow build to this novel; the climaxes, especially the eventual ending, are reached by a series of small motions and gestures that don't seem like much until you look at them within the context of the broader work. Yet I don't feel that's true of the second part, which touches on this disgusting intensity in places but in other places simply meanders from argument to argument without much purpose. It's Kinsella's tendency to occasionally drift that kept me from losing myself as fully in this novel as I could've.
Still, It's a unique and mostly compelling novel-collage, especially if you've ever found yourself fascinated by an obscure artist or find the ephemera of things a compelling theme. Curbside Splendor had a good year in 2014.
Out of 10: 8.5