Nik Worth is an eccentric artist who, when he's not working at an L.A. dive bar, records his own music and updates his third-person autobiography, The Chronicles. It's hard to say whether or not Nik is a genius or a solipsistic whacko, but his middle-aged younger sister, Denise, and her daughter, Ada, a fledgling filmmaker who wants to make a documentary about her uncle, think it's the former. The narrative is told from Denise's perspective as she writes down what happens to Nik. Besides childhood reminiscences, she includes extracts from The Chronicles' fictional reviews of Nik's music, extensive liner notes from his CDs, and even his own obituary. In this world of make-believe, Denise struggles to discern fact from fiction while doing her best to help Nik survive his destructive lifestyle. VERDICT Award-winning writer Spiotta's (Eat the Document) quirky, highly imaginative novel generates questions that echo Nik's pseudonymous last name: What constitutes artistic worth, and what makes life worth living? This is cutting-edge literary fiction with plenty of rock references for music buffs. [See Prepub Alert, 1/24/11.]Joy Humphrey, Pepperdine Univ. Law Lib., Malibu, CA
A woman tussles with memories of her brother, a rock 'n' roll cult hero, in a sharp, challenging novel about identity and family history.
Spiotta (Eat the Document, 2006, etc.) claims Don DeLillo as one of her mentors, and her third novel bears a resemblance to DeLillo's classicGreat Jones Street(1973). Both novels are concerned with the invention of pop-culture personas, and Spiotta shares DeLillo's plainspoken, often clinical style of observation. It's best not to draw too close a connection between the two authors, though: Spiotta's blend of human portraits and big-picture thinking is wholly her own. Denise, the novel's heroine and occasional narrator, has had a long love-hate relationship with her brother, Nik, an L.A. rock musician who flirted with mass popularity in the 1970s but more often shunned the spotlight. Using various pseudonyms and working in various styles, he produced a host of self-released albums and kept a regular set of "Chronicles" about himself filled with invented news stories and reviews. Spiotta's theme of crafted personas is clear (Nik's most popular band was called the Fakes), but Denise's wry, mordant character moves the novel beyond a philosophical exercise. The siblings' mother increasingly succumbs to dementia, which adds human detail to Denise's musings about what connects us outside of shared memory. She has strong reactions to news of far-away events (the book's title comes from the name of a tragedy-struck New York Amish community), which gives an emotional pitch to her thoughts about mediated experience. But for all its hard thinking,this book has plenty of novelistic energy: It's filled with in-jokes about pop, punk and new wave music, and Denise's character engagingly echoes the music's tone of irony and defiance.
A fine novel about heartbreak. Spiotta keenly understands how busily we construct images of ourselves for the public, and how hard loved ones work to dismantle them.
"Dana Spiotta's Stone Arabia is a dreamlike meditation on fame and success, technology and the imagination. The novel beautifully manifests Ms. Spiotta's gift for transforming her keen cultural intelligence into haunting, evocative prose."—Jennifer Egan, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Visit from the Goon Squad
“Added to the brilliant glitter of Ms. Spiotta’s earlier work...is something deeper and sadder: not just alienation, but a hard-won awareness of mortality and passing time... both a clever meditation on the feedback loop between life and art, and a moving portrait of a brother and sister, whose wild youth on the margins of the rock scene has given way to the disillusionments and vexations of middle age.”—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“Is there a more electrifying novelist working than Dana Spiotta?...[Stone Arabia] makes for a sharp character study: A portrait of the artist as middle-aged never-was. Yet Spiotta’s genius is to recognize that Nik’s journey is representative not just for his sister or his mother but for every one of us.”—David Ulin, LA Times
“I read Stone Arabia avidly and with awe. The language of it, the whole Gnostic hipness of it is absolutely riveting. It comes together in the most artful, surprising, insistent, satisfying way. Dana Spiotta is a major, unnervingly intelligent writer.”—Joy Williams, author of The Quick and the Dead
“Fascinating...resonant...what’s most remarkable about Stone Arabia is the way Spiotta explores such broad, endemic social ills in the small, peculiar lives of these sad siblings. Her reflections on the precarious nature of modern life are witty until they’re really unsettling.”—Ron Charles, Washington Post
“Outstanding...Male American writers have talked about the incursion of the real into territory previously held by the novelist’s capacity for invention; but who before Spiotta has written about reality’s threat not to imagination but to memory itself?...An essential American writer.”—Jonathan Dee, Harper’s Magazine
“Transfixing...It’s as though Nabokov had written a rock novel.”—Ken Tucker, Entertainment Weekly
“Evocative, mysterious, incongruously poetic…gritty, intelligent, mordent, and deeply sad...Spiotta has created, in Stone Arabia, a work of visceral honesty and real beauty.”—Kate Christensen, The New York Times Book Review
“Dana Spiotta’s stunning, virtuoso novel Stone Arabia plays out the A and B sides of a sibling bond...”—Elissa Schappell, Vanity Fair
“A smart, subtle, moving story about the complicated business of knowing the people you love...a wild, sorrowful, rambling, deeply subjective, incandescently beautiful document.”—Matthew Sharpe, Bookforum
"Stone Arabia is a rock n’ roll novel like no other. Where desire for legacy tangles with fantasy. And identity and memory are in and out of control. A loser’s game of conceit, deceit, passion, love and the raw mystery of superstar desire."—Thurston Moore
"Stone Arabia possesses the edged beauty and charged prose of Dana Spiotta’s earlier work, but in this novel about siblings, music, teen desire and adult decay, Spiotta reaches ever deeper, tracking her characters’ sweet, dangerous American dreaming with glorious precision. Here is a wonderful novel by one of our major writers."Sam Lipsyte, author of The Ask
“The book maps a post-punk milieu where the sense of completeness punk offered... never goes away. Spiotta can capture whole lives in the most ordinary transaction, and make it cut like X’s ‘Los Angeles’ or the Avengers’ ‘Car Crash.’"—Greil Marcus, The Believer