Wonderkid: A Novel

Wonderkid: A Novel

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by Wesley Stace
     
 

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From Wesley Stace—formerly known as singer-songwriter John Wesley Harding—the hugely entertaining novel about the touring life of America’s unlikeliest rock starsFrom Wesley Stace—formerly known as singer-songwriter John Wesley Harding—the hugely entertaining novel about the touring life of America’s unlikeliest rock

Overview

From Wesley Stace—formerly known as singer-songwriter John Wesley Harding—the hugely entertaining novel about the touring life of America’s unlikeliest rock starsFrom Wesley Stace—formerly known as singer-songwriter John Wesley Harding—the hugely entertaining novel about the touring life of America’s unlikeliest rock stars
Sold-out concerts, screaming fans, TV shows, Number Ones. This is the rock and roll dream, and the Wonderkids are living it. But something’s wrong. The gigs are sold out, sure, but the halls are packed with little kids—not sexy hipsters. And that screaming? It sounds more wailing, actually. The TV appearances are PBS on Saturday morning, rather than Saturday Night Live, and as for Number Ones . . . you don’t want to know.
Exposed in his impressionable youth to the absurdist literature of Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear, the Wonderkids’ lead singer, songwriter, and resident mad genius Blake Lear has always written lyrics as silly as they are infectious. Why make sense, he says, when nonsense is so much more fun? Rock and roll has always been for the kids, right?
This is why Blake has no objection when the band is offered a deal with the devil: the Wonderkids will be rock stars, adored and revered. The catch? Their audience will be children. They will be a “kindie” band avant la lettre, before the Wiggles and Dan Zanes were a twinkle in Raffi’s eye. The band takes America by storm, and things go very right—until they go very wrong. The temptations of the road are many, and the Wonderkids are big kids, too.
Narrated by Sweet, a boy Blake adopts on a whim, who becomes the band’s disciple, merch guy, amateur psychologist, and—eventually—damage control guru, Wonderkid is a delirious and surprisingly touching novel of the dangers of compromise, thwarted ambition, and fathers and sons, told with tremendous humor and energy by Wesley Stace—the rare writer who is as comfortable inside a rock club as he is inside a bookstore. A backstage epic of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, but also sippy cups, pillow fights, and Baby Bjorns, this is Almost Famous through the looking glass.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
01/06/2014
Novelist and musician Stace’s (Misfortune) newest takes a lighthearted but uninspired look at the music industry from the perspective of a zany children’s rock group. The Wunderkinds, a British band led by brothers Blake and Jack, doesn’t show much promise, but when their demo tape accidently catches the attention of a producer’s child, their slacker agent, Greg, gets a life-changing offer from an esteemed record company. As the group garners success, the delusional Blake, in his 20s, decides to adopt a troubled teenaged orphan named Sweet, who is also the book’s narrator. After moving to the States, the band is able to reinvent itself as an edgy children’s group with a slightly different name, the Wonderkids. We trail the Wonderkids as they live the expected life of musicians, and Sweet comes of age under Blake’s guidance. Other adoptions are made along the way, but tensions and bad publicity leads to the band’s demise. Most of the novel’s action takes place in the ’90s, but continues into present day when the band is scheduled to play a reunion concert at Prospect Park. Sweet fails to evolve as a character, as does most of Stace’s cast, and though the dialogue is playful and enjoyable, and the characters almost get the reader to buy in, ultimately the book is repetitive and one-note. (Mar.)
Library Journal
02/01/2014
In a novel that is equal parts Almost Famous, That Thing You Do, and The Family Fang, musician and author Stace (Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer) has taken the unpredictable lifestyle of rock and roll and given it a twist. After years of living in an orphanage and foster home, teenager Edward Sweet finds himself the newly adopted son of a children's music superstar, Blake Lear. Blake is the front man for the band The Wonderkids, which has found massive success playing nonsensical songs for children. Their concerts are wild performances filled with props, feathers, and toddler mosh pits, but backstage, it's your stereotypical rock scene filled with drugs, arguments among band members, and sex with mom-groupies. Edward spends his formative teenage years learning the ins and outs of life on tour and, in later years, coping with the dysfunctional relationships formed from these lessons. As Blake's initially endearing, wacky behavior and ideas eventually start to unravel and become more unstable than genius, the band slowly falls apart. VERDICT After a slow start, the novel gains momentum and its identity as a story of a father-son relationship set in the whirlwind that is rock music fame. Readers who enjoy rock fiction and memoirs will enjoy this outing by a writer who knows the score.—Madeline Solien, Deerfield P.L., IL
Kirkus Reviews
2013-12-25
A whimsical novel of the rock industry that frequently delights with its wry humor and insider's knowledge but ultimately falls short of its promise. Few would seem as qualified to write an incisive novel about the life of a touring musician as Stace. He initially attracted a cult following as a British singer-songwriter billed as John Wesley Harding and has also written three novels (by George, 2007, etc.) that attracted a readership beyond his music fans. He now seems to be bringing those two identities together, recording most recently under his own name and turning his novelistic attention to his experiences in the music industry. Not that this is thinly disguised memoir, for it details a parallel history of rock through the career arc of the fictitious Wonderkids, formed by two brothers (think Kinks, Oasis, Everlys) who discover that they fill a previously unknown niche: "Rock Music for Kids." Or, with their hint of misbehavior, "Punk for kids. Punk for kids whose parents like punk. Music for kids with cool parents." The band experiences its own version of pivotal moments in rock—Beatlemania, Altamont, an extended feud with the censoring Parents Music Resource Center (who term their seemingly playful music "one of the greatest evils facing America today"), a drug bust, a Jim Morrison–style indecent exposure incident, and the inevitable personnel changes, disbanding and reunion. The narrator, for reasons initially inexplicable, is a Dickensian urchin named Sweet who is adopted by the band (specifically frontman Blake Lear) to escape the tedium of his British boyhood. Sweet eventually figures more critically in the plot, but he seems like a contrivance, the coincidence of his meeting the band straining credulity, and his perspective is an odd one for telling this story. Yet the bigger problem with the novel, as with the touring rock life it depicts, is the tedium of repetition, the day-to-day-ness in which not much happens beyond stereotypes (manager, record execs, etc.) behaving like stereotypes while the author has some fun with obscure references (fans of Spirit, for example, will delight in the command to the bus driver: "Randy? California!"). The novel makes the point that all rock is kid's music ("Aren't we all just big kids?") and makes it again and again.
From the Publisher
"Wonderkid is Stace's fourth novel, and its subject - an English rock band storming (and then foundering upon) the shores of America - brings his musical and literary careers together for a lighthearted look at an education formed on the road." —SF Chronicle
 
"Wonderkid is good fun and deliciously entertaining, a light-hearted story about a band that never was—but I kind of wish had been" —Wall Street Journal

Hilarious . . . Winningly dry . . . Marvelously drawn . . . The Wonderkids’ increasingly unhinged antics and eventual . . . flameout, which culminate in Blake’s seeming to expose himself onstage at the “Pack ’n’ Play Festival” (Stace has a marvelous time with names), are entertaining. And there are some absolute gems in the final chapters.” —The New York Times Book Review

"Fast-paced and full of details only a music insider would know, novelist and musician Stace’s latest is a funny, untamed, highly pleasurable read, a wise and witty visit to a world few of us have experienced"—Booklist 

"Stace has a great eye and a lifetime of inside knowledge that he deploys to comic, touching effect."—Portland Oregonian
 
"In all, Wonderkid is a work of both great wit and deep tenderness. It’s a tale of raucous lost boys written by an author with an exacting eye, but who also truly feels for these misfits."—Philadelphia City Paper

“Wesley Stace has always been the only genuinely gifted fiction writer who also happens to be a rock star, but Wonderkid is the book he was born to write. And if you prefer your novels brazen, poignant and hilarious, as I do, you were born to read it. Like a great show, this will stay with you long after the last cymbal crash and power strum.” —Sam Lipsyte, author of The Fun Parts
 
“Wesley Stace has written one of the very few novels about rock bands and the music business that doesn’t have a single false note or outsider-wannabe pretensions. It’s a relief—and a joy—to read about the weird particularities of the lives of musicians by someone who knows the world so intimately. He deconstructs, with an elegant and sharp eye, the heightened sense of the unreality of fame, the relentless grind of touring, and the Ego and the Id made deliciously manifest in the Wonderkids (my favorite new band). He is both ruthless and compassionate, but never cynical. I thought about these characters even when I wasn’t reading the book, and the story will stay with me for a very long time. Wonderkid has both enormous entertainment value and serious literary worth, a very hard trick to pull off.” —Rosanne Cash, author of Composed
 
Highly pleasurable. And unusual, not least because this is a rock ’n’ roll novel written by someone who actually knows what he’s talking about.” —Peter Carey, author of The Chemistry of Tears
 
“Rock ’n’ roll is an infantile business, but never more so than in the hands of the Wonderkids, a group of post-teens, playing music for pre-teens, whilst living chaotic adult lives. In Wonderkid, Wesley Stace absolutely captures the band experience: the triumphs, the letdowns, the sell-outs, the success, and the scandal, with an extra helping of absurdity. There were times reading this book that I could actually smell the dank dressing rooms, or feel the bus rolling down the highway to the next gig.” —Peter Buck
 
“Finally, a sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll book for Dan Zanes fans! Wonderkid also happens to be one of the best books about fathers and sons since Turgenev.” —Gary Shteyngart, author of Little Failure
 
“I can’t believe that this amazing book exists. Wonderkid is by far the best music novel I’ve ever read, and the most unexpectedly wild ride I’ve ever been on. Every detail is perfect. Do you want to read about the music business? Family dynamics? Children’s entertainment? The often uneasy relationship between the US and the UK? The creative process? This book lays it all out with love and wild imagination. Wonderkid is uplifting, inspiring, unhinged, and unpredictable, just like rock ’n’ roll itself.” —Dan Zanes
 
“Wesley Stace’s Wonderkid is a marvelous satiric mashup of rock ’n’ roll and pack ’n’ plays. It’s sweet and funny and knowing—and this is me, holding up my lighter for more.” —Joshua Ferris, author of The Unnamed
 
“At turns illuminating and heartbreaking—but always funny—Wonderkid is A Visit from the Goon Squad for the kiddie music world. A pitch-perfect excavation into the lighter heart of the music industry.” —Colin Meloy
 
Wonderkid is a gem, a rock ’n’ roll novel written from the inside, with an insider’s knowledge of music and the music business, and all the exhilaration and indignities that come with the territory. Wesley Stace is a wise and witty guide to the career of Blake Lear and the Wonderkids, a fictional band that becomes so real over the course of the novel that you’ll think you heard them on the radio.” —Tom Perrotta, author of Nine Inches
 
“Wesley Stace writes with verve, pace, and great good humor. Wonderkid is a flamboyant novel about rock ’n’ roll, sex and drugs, broken dreams, and Brits on tour in America. Buy it at once.” —Patrick McGrath, author of Constance

"A perfectly pitched coming-of-age novel that’s as playful and provocative as rock music itself. . . Stace brings the road alive with exquisitely authentic details. . . The familiarity is entirely engaging, and it’s likely that you’ll worry about the band’s trajectory, the looming loss of innocence, and probably the fate of rock music. Stace doesn’t take things in the usual direction, though, so don’t give up on these guys. In the end, they prove that the spirit of rock and roll might grow up a bit, but, indeed, it never dies. –ForeWord Reviews

"A whimsical novel of the rock industry that frequently delights with its wry humor and insider’s knowledge." —Kirkus Reviews

"Loud, funny, and entertaining in the extreme . . . A real insiders’ look into life on tour." —Bookreporter
 

"Delicious . . . Stace is a writer of considerable verve and accomplishment . . . Stace has a great eye and a lifetime of inside knowledge that he deploys to comic, touching effect." —Portland Oregonian
 
"A bittersweet coming-of-age story . . . Wonderkid is a work of both great wit and deep tenderness. It’s a tale of raucous lost boys written by an author with an exacting eye, but who also truly feels for these misfits." —Philadelphia City Paper
 

"If Stace’s latest novel, his fourth, rings true, it’s because he is writing what he knows. For 25 years, he performed smart indie rock under the pseudonym John Wesley Harding . . . A great rock ’n’ roll novel." —Boston Globe

"Entertaining. . . The tale is best when it focuses on Sweet’s journey from orphan to touring with the band, at times sharing DNA with Almost Famous. . . The ultimately touching father-son relationship between Sweet and Lear reminds the reader that not only do children eventually have to learn to be adults, but also that adults would be better off if they spent more time acting like kids. —Washington Independent Review of Books

"Wesley Stace writes with verve, pace and great good humor. Wonderkid is a flamboyant novel about rock 'n' roll, sex and drugs, broken dreams, and Brits on tour in America. Buy it at once."—Patrick McGrath, author of Asylum

"Wesley Stace has written one of the very few novels about rock bands and the music business that doesn't have a single false note or outsider-wannabe pretensions. It's a relief—and a joy—to read about the weird particularities of the lives of musicians by someone who knows the world so intimately. He deconstructs, with an elegant and sharp eye, the heightened sense of the unreality of fame, the relentless grind of touring, and the Ego and the Id made deliciously manifest in the Wonderkids (my favorite new band). He is both ruthless and compassionate, but never cynical. I thought about these characters even when I wasn't reading the book, and the story will stay with me for a very long time. Wonderkid has both enormous entertainment value and serious literary worth, a very hard trick to pull off." —Rosanne Cash

"Wonderkid is a blast for all lovers of rock 'n' roll…A rocking novel, with a heartfelt take on music, fathers and sons, and the perils of selling out." —Shelf Awareness

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781468308013
Publisher:
The Overlook Press
Publication date:
02/27/2014
Pages:
352
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.50(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
Praise for Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer
“A tremendously imaginative novel that's really several novels in one, for beneath its sparkling surface there are some very murky depths. A wonderfully disquieting read.” —Sarah Waters, author of Fingersmith
 
“Wesley Stace's tale of music and murder is a baroque intellectual thriller, wittily erudite and psychologically acute. Charles Jessold joins Thomas Mann's Adrian Leverkühn and Randall Jarrell's Gottfried Rosenbaum in the gallery of memorable composers in fiction.” —Alex Ross, author of The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century
 
“I read Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer in the white noise of a long plane ride; afterward I felt as though I had spent hours listening to symphonies, snatches of music in the midst of being composed, and a low persuasive voice telling me about bad behaviour and surprising sins. This is one of the few novels I have read that is truly musical. Wesley Stace is a brilliant and intensely original writer and this is his most unusual book yet.” —Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler's Wife

Meet the Author

Wesley Stace is the author of three widely acclaimed novels: Misfortune, selected by the Washington Post and Amazon as one of the best novels of the year; By George, one of the New York Public Library’s 2007 Books To Remember; and Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer, one of the Wall Street Journal’s best fiction books of 2011. He has released fifteen albums under the name John Wesley Harding and has appeared on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, The Late Show with David Letterman, and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. He is the founder of the Cabinet of Wonders variety show, which has featured appearances by Rosanne Cash, Colson Whitehead, and Joshua Ferris, among many others, and which can be heard on NPR. He contributes frequently to the New York Times and lives in Philadelphia.

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Wonderkid: A Novel 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
RayBear More than 1 year ago
Jack and Blake are brothers and the first part of the story begins with them in England, describing how they got into music and their aspirations as a rock and roll band. They find themselves thrust into “Your child’s first rock band.” (Page 88), making Everyone Music that is marketed to entertain kids and adults alike. It is described as “Punk for kids. Punk fur kids whose parents like punk. Music for kids with cool parents. Top of the pops for tots.” Page 69). The band is made complete with the twins on rhythm section and Greg, but the twins quit before the band makes a run on America and Greg quits as eloquently as possible just as soon as they get to America. These deserters are replaced with Becca Fonseca, nicknamed mum, on bass and Curtis, the non-controversial dreads and diversity drummer. The band is truly now for Everyone but they’d all gone a bit American and the shenanigans truly begin. After controversy Becca is replaced with Camille as the new bass player, “‘Black, very beautiful, quite serious, slightly eccentric, possibly gay, definitely vegetarian, and Christian.'” (Page 197). Camille and Curtis make up the responsible part of the band, and that says something of the other half. Blake has adopted Sweet, our narrator, during the England to America journey, and fame hits the band hard, the charts are risen through, and toes step out of line. They are a kids band after all. It all falls to pieces multiple times, but the band pulls through until the big bust and the big breakup. Mitchell the manager quits and Andy the Damager, their rep from the record company, is none too pleased with the whole affair. Blake goes to jail, goes solo, goes sane and insane. Then the big finale… “‘I want to be a musician when I grow up, Mum.’ ‘Well, son, you can’t do both.'” (Page 160). Wonderkids could be the novelized version of This Is Spinal Tap. It all happened. It never happened. The truth is spit out all over the pages and Wesley Stace continuously impresses with stories that are too detailed not to have happened, but too entertaining to be true. In the beginning, as a rookie rock and roll fan, amateur musician, and reader, I was suckered into believing Wonderkids was a biography. Blowing through the final pages and looking up some of the facts to corroborate some of the more unbelievable details, I lean toward the other side: this is fiction. This is fiction so well documented that it has to have some truth. The author, Wesley Stace, is himself a musician and I would like to imagine that some of the capers in the story and the personalities in the characters are built from his own personal memory bank and imagination. Wonderkids was such a winding story, with so many characters and moments that I had to take some notes to help me organize my own thoughts and get a feel for the timeline of the band. The reader gets a good chunk into the book before the narrator is revealed in his own right as Ed Sweet. Before this sweet introduction, the reader is given first-hand details on two of the main characters. Did I mention that there are quite a few main characters? Characters with full personalities and whims that are such an entertainment for the reader. I was fascinated by Blake as a person (one of the main characters). He was given many simple descriptions, yet remained a complex character given to his own moodiness. He was, in essence, a real person with real faults and character flaws. He had his good days and bad days, good decisions and bad decisions. Blake grew from rock aspirations to nonsensical story teller/songwriter to moody musician. His character was dynamic and molded by his experiences and decisions during his time as a Wonderkidder. He adopted Sweet, who was 10 years his junior. He loved to hang out with the kids of his audience after his shows. Blake is like the pied piper, children flock on and around him and are entranced. He entertains them and invites them to him. He says, “My patience for other peoples kids is infinite.” (Page 114). He is patient with the kids, but also extremely loyal to his own ‘family.’ He takes the fall for his adopted son and brother without resentment or bitterness. Blake is very much the parent, albeit at times misguided, whilst still lacking discipline for Sweet and himself. Blake puts himself under fire for Sweet without a second thought, as parents do for their children. Our lovely narrator Sweet is the undirected teen who can’t help but get into trouble. Sweet’s Hamartia, if his fault could even be called that, is more than just sugary treats. He is misguided because of his role models’ poor examples in life and lack of parental discipline (also known as consequences), therefore his actions loom larger and larger until real life consequences kick in that affect the entire ‘family’ – the whole band. Sweet, however, is blessed with the motivation and maturity unbeknownst to most teenagers, and is “more than happy to be a handy marketing opportunity [selling the band’s merchandise].” (Page 107). He later becomes what he has studied in these younger years of his: a band manager. I never much contemplated kids rock or kindie (indie music for kids). Is this a real genre of music? What is rock for kids like? Is it those Kidz Bop songs where kids sing rock songs in horrific A Capella versions? Is it a karaoke-esque version of something great, dumbed down for lesser ears? Censored lyrics? According to Wonderkid, none of these is true.  Rock for kids is simply rock… for kids. The venues might be different and the audience might include children, but it is true rock. According to the great Wikipedia, kindie rock ” is a style of children’s music that “melds the sensibility of the singer-songwriter with themes aimed at kids under 10.” Children’s music veterans, Greg & Steve and Bobby Susser introduced various forms of kindie rock to the school supply industry in the mid 70s, and continue to do so, within their repertoire.” So it does exist… I felt, as I was reading this novel, that I was reading the history of kindie, that Wonderkids was the pioneer of rock for kids, rock for Everyone aka Everyone Music. This novel is somewhat exclusive in its content and writing style, it is written for an audience that enjoys the haze of being on the border of something great or for someone who was there and knows and can point and laugh with the characters saying, “I know them!” or “I know that song, that reference.”  But I don’t know them and I was not always sure what Wesley Stace was referring to in his reference-studded novel. Just like Ready, Player, One I still very much enjoyed the book and how well it was put together even if I didn’t get all or even most of the references. I understand the whole, but couldn’t get some of the pieces. For example, “He didn’t like the aggression in the air, the kids who’d stolen his baton, their scruffy seven-inch singles,  their Xeroxed fanzines, their lapels full of safety pins and badges for bands whose art direction never deviated from the ransom note font.” (Pages 10-11). It takes a moment to sink in and the whole book is full of these moments, these heavy-weighted sentences and thoughts that it would take a course of study to get through the 300+ page book with serious clarity. Perhaps Stace’s audience is more intelligent or more up on the times than I am and perhaps you will be too, but I could still enjoy the fast-paced rhythm of his writing style and the fascinating story he was weaving throughout. This novel makes me wonder if the life of a musician rising to fame and falling into nonexistence again is just like Stace describes. Movies might exaggerate, but do books? Is life this glamorous? According to Blake touring is… “Sometimes it’s a bit like getting married every day, eating the finest foods, drinking bubbly, being showered with gifts; eventually, you just want a day off.” (Page 278).