Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the short story collection Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008), Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (Another New Calligraphy, 2010), and the critical study Learning for Revolution: The Work of Kathy Acker (San Diego State University Press, 2011). Dew is also a regular reviewer for Rain Taxi Review of Books. His Web site is spencerdew.com.
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Country music star J. Claude Caruthers has a physicist brother with a prosthetic hand whose laboratory work launches some improbable plot lines in a book that draws heavily on Caruthers’ own autobiographical text, Nashville’s Shakespeare, which features tour bus aphorisms and much braggadocio, including digs at a certain other country star. “One chapter, titled ‘Seventy-eight Reasons Kenny Rogers is a Pussy,’ included illustrations of the snow-beard Texan wearing a dress and sucking his thumb,” for instance.
Kenny Rogers figures in the narrative here, along with a plan to write songs for the name of every woman on earth, a talking knife, a talking guitar, and some mad science—the aforementioned physics lab mess, hence the black hole in the book’s title. All of this is a bit Tom Robbins without quite the level of disarming charm or original spark. Not that there isn’t some humor here, as the self-proclaimed Shakespeare of Nashville says to his guitar, “I always figured it’d be Kenny Rogers who killed me, not some science experiment,” but a good country song has bones and gravy to it, makes you feel rained-on and mosquito-bit, while Caruthers pretty much just dithers out self aggrandizement and rhymes on the names of girls. That’s not even a recipe for bad country, it’s bad rap. Black Hole Blues is a medium-height tale standing on its toes and flailing a bit, trying to look tall by tossing around protons and factory-molded rubber extremities, personifying club sandwiches and letters, by which I mean letters, as in “‘Come on already, read me,’ the letter said. Fresh from having its envelope opened and being unfolded—it was ready to work.”
“You’re writing a song at a time like this?” one character yowls at the protagonist as various preposterous plot lines plod toward each other. “The fate of the world is on the line and you’re plucking that stupid guitar?” Likely, the song isn’t worth singing, and while some guns get drawn, eventually, in Black Hole Blues, there’s no blues and not much gravity. So folks might hum along to this little ditty, but I suspect more readers would leave it behind on the bus, without a dog ear to its pages or a reaffirming chorus scrawled in its margins.
Official Patrick Wensink Web Site
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