‘Wonderland’ by Stacey D’Erasmo – The Comeback Tour

‘Wonderland’ by Stacey D’Erasmo   (2014) – 242 pages


‘Wonderland’ is the perhaps too authentic story of the comeback tour of 44-year-old indie rock artist Anna Brundage.  Her first album ‘Whale’ was a monster hit, her next two not so much.  She dropped out of the music business for seven years, and now she’s back touring Europe with a new band.

The rock performance life is all here.  The shows where the band is hot, the bad scenes, the casual hookups, the drinking, the all-pervasive drugs.  For most of us the Sixties and Seventies have long been over, but these musicians and their entourages are still living the life.

This is the first novel by Stacey D’Erasmo that I’ve read.  I think she was faced with two ways she could have portrayed the rock life. One way would have been to portray these musicians as sincere serious artists who are attempting to create and perform valuable work that will last.  That would be the Rolling Stone magazine approach, that rock musicians are real artists.  The other way is that D’Erasmo could have presented the rock-and-roll life as an outrageous scam with everyone in it for the drugs and the adulation and the casual sex and the money.

It would have been much easier for D’Erasmo to take the ‘serious artist’ approach, but she took the more complicated route where the musicians, including the main character, are somewhere between artists and shams.

My problem with ‘Wonderland’ is that I did not like any of the characters in this novel.  I had an active dislike for most of them that never went away.  Throughout the novel we see Anna Brundage hooking up with one loser nonentity after another, all of them on a rather casual basis.  Her father is a world-famous artist all because he sawed a train car in half.  This kind of stunt was big in the art world at one time, but it is difficult to see it as anything but a scam.  So this father, though famous and loved by Anna, was an obvious fake and a phony.  He also is a cliché, and he pretty much undermined any appreciation I had for ‘Wonderland’.

And the other characters aren’t better.    The dialogue in ‘Wonderland’ is terrible, mainly because they talk like musicians talk in real life.  ‘The vibe was kind of weird.’  ‘I’m being such an asshole.  Let’s rock this thing.’  Verisimilitude is not always a good thing in a novel.

There have been novels where all the main characters are unlikeable, yet the élan and the spirit of the writer wins us over.  I felt that in ‘Wonderland’ D’Erasmo didn’t realize how detestable her characters really were, and she expected us to like them anyhow.

On the cover of ‘Wonderland’ there is the following quote from Michael Stipe of the band REM: “The world of Wonderland is authentic, vibrant, and genuine.  D’Erasmo explores the delight and terror of second chances.  A great read.”  Michael Stipe is a rock hero of mine, but we kind of disagree on this novel.


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