four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
54-Sept-Oct-2011
By: 
Dana Spiotta
user_rating: 
0

A-StoneArabiaNational Book Award finalist Dana Spiotta (Eat the Document) returns with her third novel, focusing on an aging rock musician and his sister.

The Story: Nik Worth is a washed-up former punk rocker who almost found success in the late 1970s. He now spends his days working as a bartender and living off his sister, Denise. Nik, eternally frustrated by receiving only a brush with success, creates an alternative past, writing profiles of himself, creating posters of famous concerts, and imagining the sundry details of a celebrity life: drug use, bitter divorces, acrimonious public spats. In the midst of Nik's creation of what he calls his "Chronicles," Denise continues to adore her older brother. As Nik dwells on an alternative past, Denise fears a bleak future. When she and Nik reach their 50s, she becomes increasingly worried about her own health, specifically remembering her mother's bout with Alzheimer's. As the two wrestle with aging, a complex portrait of a sibling relationships emerges.
Scribner. 256 pages. $24. ISBN: 9781451617962

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Identity ... is the bright thread that runs through the work of the immensely talented novelist Dana Spiotta. ... All this may sound awfully precious or silly, but Ms. Spiotta knows her characters so well ... that she somehow manages to make it feel palpable and haunting. In doing so she has written a novel that's both a clever meditation on the feedback loop between life and art, and a moving portrait of a brother and sister." Michiko Kakutani

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Is there a more electrifying novelist working than Dana Spiotta? ... If nothing else, this [novel] makes for a sharp character study: A portrait of the artist as middle-aged never-was. ... In the end, Stone Arabia is about ... the idea that life and meaning are what we make of them, even (or especially) when the connections have broken down." David L. Ulin

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"The siblings seem, in a sense, like the older, poorer, nonreligious, failed West Coast versions of Salinger's Franny and Zooey, another brilliant, hermetically sealed brother-sister pair. ... This [is a] gritty, intelligent, mordant and deeply sad novel. Spiotta has created, in Stone Arabia, a work of visceral honesty and real beauty." Kate Christensen

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars
"In this spiky and elaborately structured story, there are multiple peak scenes ... Stone Arabia has a marvelous savviness. It swims through media ... like most novels swim through weather. ... Stone Arabia is a profound and moving portrayal of siblings--a rarity in adult literature." Karen R. Long

Minneapolis Star Tribune 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[T]ension builds toward the end, but Stone Arabia is really propelled by Spiotta's unflashy eloquence, dry wit and depth of feeling. She's an exceptional novelist, as sharp on sociopolitical history as she is on romance and family and, especially, the spaces where such things overlap." Dylan Hicks

Critical Summary

Critics were almost universally effusive about Stone Arabia, highlighting its themes of aging, identity, and obsession. As David Ulin in the Los Angeles Times observes, the novel focuses on "the idea that life and meaning are what we make of them, even (or especially) when the connections have broken down." Against the backdrop of the rock scene (real and imagined) in the 1970s and 1980s, Spiotta's sharp writing style offers penetrating insight into a sibling relationship. All hail a book with a strong ending--and Stone Arabia has that. Yes, Spiotta doesn't properly tie up a few of the subplot's loose ends, but that's a minor complaint.

Also by the Author

Eat the Document (2006): In 1972, a woman commits an act of domestic terrorism. When things go wrong, she separates from her antiwar activist lover, Bobby (who later goes by the name of Nash), abandons her identity as Mary, and flees to the West Coast. Hiding in Seattle 25 years later, Mary (who now calls herself Caroline) is a drugged-out widow with a teenage son, Jason. Coincidentally, Nash runs a local left-wing bookstore for his Vietnam vet friend Henry. Then Caroline's and Nash's pasts start to catch up with them. ( 3 of 5 Stars May/June 2006)