Baroque-A-Nova is a hard book to review. It has an interesting setup, raises provocative questions about fame, activism and relationships, and, yet I failed to really care about a single character.
The novel, author Kevin Chongís first, centers around Saul, a typically jaded, self-absorbed teenager whose separated parents once made up the celebrated folk duo The St. Pierres. When the story opens, The St. Pierres are experiencing a resurgence of fame when a band with the great name of Urethra Franklin samples the folk bandís greatest hit. Saulís father, the laconic, booze-loving Ian St. Pierre, is living with two young women who canít technically be called "groupies" because Ian is no longer part of a group. Saul lives with his stepmother, Jana, a reasonable sort who met Ian while traveling with The St. Pierres as a teen.
This bizarre life is made even more peculiar when Saulís long-absent mother, the reclusive Helena St. Pierre, killed herself. Her death further inflames The St. Pierres renaissance and draws a crowd of reporters to town. Meanwhile, certain factions start to blame the notably creepy Ian. There are also sub-plots about Saulís sometime girlfriend, Rose, and a book that Saulís school is attempting to ban.
With all this going on, itís understandable that Chong wouldnít have time to develop the characters. The most fleshed-out person in the novel is Saul, who is far too self-absorbed and pretentious to be truly engaging. Heís cruel to his girlfriend, and the characters he claims to have affection for Ė Jana, Ian and Marina, one of the women living with his father Ė donít fare much better. As for the rest of the characters, theyíre sketches at best. Ian is constantly making long, often alcohol-fueled speeches, so we know what a pompous jerk he is, but thereís no real insight into his actions. And hints that he actually was involved with Helenaís death surface and disappear inexplicably.
Chong is at least ambitious, and he can be funny, especially with detailing the mob mentality that celebrity often inspires, and in the often saccharine lyrics of The St. Pierresí ditties. But thereís no real anchor in his story. The whole thing just sort of drifts aimlessly, giving the reader no true reason to care what happens to anyone.