Stone Arabia is a new novel by Dana Spiotta, a writer from California. It’s about a sister and brother, fast approaching middle age, both grappling with the failures of their once-bright artistic dreams. They are mutually supportive opposites. She’s an earthbound, discouraged office worker (who narrates this story in a series of sardonic fits and starts), while he carries on a bizarre habit that provides the koan at the center of this strange book. Having failed as a rock star during the late 1970s, he began a lifelong construction of a fantasy career as a rock star, complete with homemade CDs, extensive bootlegs, memorabilia, fan mail, good and bad reviews. This is his life’s work, even if nobody but his sister, his niece and a few assorted ex-girlfriends ever see it. As he nears his fiftieth birthday, impoverished and nearly friendless, he begins to face the fact that this made-up world has gone as far as it can go.
Dana Spiotta writes cool, odd novels — her smooth icy touch may remind you of Don DeLillo, but she’s less aggravating — infused with an intense appreciation of rock music’s literary power. I was impressed by her previous novel Eat The Document, which sarcastically contrasted the sickening corporate infiltration of underground culture with the shimmering ideal of the classic Beach Boys album “Pet Sounds”, the crowning masterpiece that possesses the mind of one of its doomed characters. (I wrote about this book a few times on Litkicks, most recently here). Stone Arabia is a similarly clever, reflective, abstract novel, a winding journey into the unknown.
During the last two weeks I participated in an email roundtable about this book organized by Ed Champion, along with a great group of participants including Porochista Khakpour, Alan Shephard, Paul Bomer, Roxane Gay, Bill Ryan, Judith Zissman, Robert Birnbaum, Susan Straight, Darby Dixon, Sarah Weinman, Lydia Kiesling, Diane Leach. Together, we analyzed, shredded and dissected this interesting novel, and I think many of us were surprised how much we found to say. Even if you’re not interested in the novel (though I think you should be), you may want to check out the high-energy conversation we had about the book, which has been edited into a coherent whole, beginning with this installment (which features me, among others) and continuing with part two. This will be going on at Ed’s blog all week.