February 24, 2016

Book Review: "F 250," by Bud Smith

F 250, by Bud Smith

F 250
By Bud Smith
Piscastaway House
Reviewed by Chris Schahfer

The first novel I've ever read about the romantic and financial travails of a noise rock guitarist (named Lee, member of a band called Ottermeat), if nothing else. But for a novel about music, F 250 contains a surprising amount of errors. The Etta James version of "At Last" is falsely attributed to Aretha Franklin, while Black Sabbath's Master of Reality is erroneously titled Masters of Reality. While this in and of itself isn't enough to ruin my experience, although it is frustrating, it reveals a broader lack of attention to detail that puts me off from broad swathes of this book. Consider: while on his first date with both K and June, unsure of how to handle the situation, Lee claims to take "whatever opportunity presented to show them the depth of [his] oddness." Fine and good as a launch pad for a scene that showcases this oddness, but Smith pulls away from this moment and rolls on. This problem becomes even larger when the characters are considered. Drummer Seth fits the "crazy-drummer" stereotype perfectly and does little if anything outside of it. Ditto the band's prima donna rich-kid singer Ethan, a caricature of the impotent antagonist if there ever was one. The women in the book aren't much more complex than the men, their roles confined to "sex object" (K, June, Denise) and "former sex object who now loathes our protagonist, mostly due to their sex life" (Natalie, Lee's ex-girlfriend).

All of this becomes pretty frustrating, as does the lack of momentum in the novel. Smith spends a lot of time spinning on narrative wheels. Characters talk about pop culture and music, meet up and argue with their exes, wonder what their lives could've been if they'd made a few different decisions (protagonist Lee is especially fond of this), and get into car accidents, but not a lot happens in terms of moving their arcs forward. Smith hits the plot's key points at a fairly slow pace, which would be fine if the spaces between the plot points were less redundant and if the plot points themselves were more compelling and strained less at credibility. Instead, most of them concern how a middle-aged man in a go-nowhere band somehow manages to have sex with one impossibly attractive woman after another. So there are a fair number of flaws with this novel, but Smith's voice sometimes helps things along: the world-weariness can be either insightful or funny, like in Bukowski's lucid or self-aware moments. Even the prose is limited, though, as Smith tends to trip up on modifiers; see "My window, specifically, was exactly the kind of window built to let a girl like Denise in" for an example of clumsiness. A frustrating read for me, which is too bad: with a little more subtlety, I think it would've been something.

Out of 10: 5.8.

Read even more about F 250: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | Shelfari

Filed by Chris Schahfer at 7:00 AM, February 24, 2016. Filed under: Chris Schahfer | Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |