three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
49-Nov-Dec-2010
By: 
Rick Bass
user_rating: 
0

A-Nashville ChromeRich Bass, an environmental activist and writer, has penned more than two dozen novels, short story collections, and works of nature writing.

The Story: The teenage Elvis Presley, who dreamt of becoming a gospel singer before he hit it big, spent two years on tour with the Browns, a trio of siblings who, with their smooth harmony, produced country hits in the 1950s, including "The Three Bells," which topped the charts in 1959. Although the Browns--Maxine, Bonnie, and Jim Ed--are not household names anymore, they experienced international success before they practically disappeared by the 1960s. Bass recreates their rise and fall in an "attempt to portray the emotional truths" of the Browns' fame. He follows their hardscrabble upbringing in rural Arkansas during the Great Depression and their rapid rise to stardom; he also pans to the present, where Maxine, ailing and lonely, struggles with her previous greatness.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 256 pages. $24. ISBN: 9780547317267

Dallas Morning News 4 of 5 Stars
"Fame is the theme of Nashville Chrome: how people deal with it while they have it and how they do without it when it's gone. ... Nashville Chrome is a splendid novel, perhaps Rick Bass' best." Bryan Woolley

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Pieces of the writer's previous work--landscapes, ‘pewter skies,' endangered species (human and animal), endangered innocence, human greed, nostalgia and regret--are all here in this imagined story of three real-life siblings who formed the root stock of what we now call country music, Nashville style. ... Critics often call Bass a lyrical writer, and it's true, but he is also a master craftsman, an artisan." Susan Salter Reynolds

Entertainment Weekly 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Nashville Chrome ... raises questions at every juncture about what is fact and what is fiction. But Rick Bass' evocative detailing of the singers' upbringing, rise to stardom, and heartbreaking fall into the ‘Where are they now?' file sweeps you along just as the real-life Browns' music once carried away listeners." Clark Collis

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 3 of 5 Stars
"It helps that Bass is not only an experienced fiction writer but also a renowned naturalist, whose lifetime of close observation of the natural world results in numerous evocative passages in which he makes a scene pop with life. ... [Some] sections of Chrome featuring the older Maxine grow repetitious, as Bass repeatedly sounds the same themes: fortune is fickle and fame is fleeting." Mike Fischer

Minneapolis Star Tribune 2 of 5 Stars
"Mindful that the facts can get in the way of a good yarn, Bass has augmented true stories, invented legends, played with dates and trivia and made amusing historical alterations. Alas, none of this invention leads to much narrative momentum, and, except for Maxine, the Browns and their associates remain flat and distant, like sheet music awaiting singers." Dylan Hicks

Critical Summary

Critics disagreed somewhat over the success of Nashville Chrome, a fictionalized account of the Browns' life story and the burden of fame. All acknowledged that Bass is a master of his craft--from his storytelling abilities to his beautiful, lyrical prose. Here, his descriptions of the Arkansas swamps and the natural world shine. Yet reviewers diverged on a number of issues. A few thought that the best parts of the novel chronicle Maxine's present-day life--and her transition from an ambitious young star to a defeated, regretful old woman. Some, however, thought these sections tedious. Others complained that Bass never really gets inside the Browns' music. Despite these flaws, Nashville Chrome pays the Browns their due--and brings their music and times back to life.