Tuesday, January 27, 2009

"Rock Bottom"

Michael Shilling earned his MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Michigan where he now teaches in the English Department. His short stories have appeared in The Sun, Fugue, and Other Voices.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Rock Bottom, and reported the following:
Rock Bottom is about the last day of the last tour of Blood Orphans, an LA four-piece band much longer on looks than talent. Well, they do have a talent for screwing up everything. The book takes place in Amsterdam, where they are marooned, waiting to play their final show to no one except the laughing ghosts of their failure. Will they submit to the cruel career logic of the end of the line, or find a way back into the show-biz sunshine?

Page 69 concerns the back-story of Darlo Cox, the drummer, who is beautiful, arrogant, and the nerve center of the band. Darlo's dad is a pornographer of much repute, and his mother, who has long left them for cleaner living in the midwest, has recently begun correspondence with her son after a decade of silence:

His mother’s latest letter included a promise of airfare to lovely greater Des Moines, where the buffalo roam and the skies are not cloudy all day.

“Why would you want to?” the old man asked, sipping a Virgin Mary.

“Obviously she wants to get to know me.”

Père Cox swirled his tomato juice and looked as if he was actually thinking before he talked. He only looked that way when he was choosing box shots.

“Your mother never forgave us for the lifestyle we chose. She says I chose it, but she knows that it was a joint decision. She liked to swing. She liked other guys and me at the same —”

“That’s my mother you’re talking about,” Darlo said, because that’s what they said on TV. Indignation seemed like a thing worth trying. “I know that you guys used to —”

“— fuck other people. Your mother led the charge. Off- camera, she wrote the book on double penetration. She’s just Linda Lovelacing it.” Darlo heard fracture in his father’s voice, actual hurt, a knife piercing hard ground. “Really, Darlo, you don’t know the half of her world- class denial. And now she’s gonna save you from de old debbil David.”

“I just want to meet her.”

“You spent nine months inside her. Wasn’t that enough?”

Darlo tabled the issue. He stuck with the drums.

“When you’re ready,” she wrote, “come see us.”

Darlo’s first band was called Salvage Yard. Four guys from Hollywood High. One of them was Darlo’s drug dealer, a poor man’s Beastie Boy named Jesse. He lived in a French Normandie mansion near Darlo. Jesse’s stepfather, a British film executive at Universal, had built in the basement a nice little sixty-four-track, all-digital recording studio for himself, complete with isolation booths, a six figure bank of compressors, and a two-hundred-gallon exotic fish tank.

This page of the book does a nice job displaying the prose rhythm of the chapters from Darlo's close-omniscient POV, as well as illustrating the emotional and day-to-day raunch in which Darlo has grown up, been formed by, and must constantly navigate.

The chapters of Rock Bottom rotate between third person narration from the perspectives of five main characters -- the four dudes in the band and their coke-headed, charismatic female manager. Much of Rock Bottom is comedic, but the chapters that concern Darlo are a bit more serious. The other members of the band are: Bobby, a bass player with crippling eczema; Shane, a Christian rocker who forsook his beliefs to play in a secular band concerned only with worldly pleasures; and Adam, a brilliant musician and the band door-mat. The manager, Joey, is a would-be Brian Epstein who has no idea what she's doing. Like Darlo, each of them spends this final day reckoning with their role in the mess that is Blood Orphans, and getting into Dutch-framed misadventures that slowly but surely intersect.
Read an excerpt from Rock Bottom, and learn more about the book and author at the Rock Bottom website and Michael Shilling's blog.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue