That Summertime Sound

Former film executive Matthew Specktor makes his fiction debut with this gossamer yet feverish coming-of-age novel about a nameless 19-year-old lost boy who spends the summer of 1987 slinking around Columbus, Ohio, where “[y]ou could stay up all night and sleep all day and dig the pennies out of your pocket for drink tickets, chocolate bars, mix-tapes and beer.” For this California native (described by his girlfriend as “the thinkiest person” she’s ever met), the town’s gravitational attraction is punk band Lords of Oblivion, headed by weedy Nic Devine, who turns out to be a kind of savior and sinner both. The outcast social circle of bourgeois depressives (one torn, for instance, between Yale and England) is disrupted by dramas of urban Greek-tragedy proportions: rape, AIDS, a childhood home burning to the ground. Apart from heavy-handedness, the story bottles truisms about hangdog music lovers marching to the beat of their own college-rock soundtracks. “Bassists are no good,” grumbles one oblivious Lord. “They just hog all the girls and make it tougher for the rest of us. Nothing good ever came out of a bassist.” Laughing, I read this line to a bass player friend, who responded, “Sounds like a drummer, if they could write.” But how did he deduce that it was a drummer? “Singers don’t think about anyone but themselves, and guitar players have no trouble getting girls in the first place.” With pitch-perfect dialogue and uncut desires, Specktor’s book sings of an eternal rock ‘n’ roll youth stamped, from the outset, with a blurry date of expiration.