Stacey D'Erasmo
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Buy *Wonderland* by Stacey D'Erasmo online

Stacey D'Erasmo
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
256 pages
May 2014
rated 3 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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Hard to believe that D’erasmo’s Anna Brundage wasn’t inspired by Julianne Moore’s character in the recent movie What Maisie Knew. Either way, the actress would be great as D’erasmo’s tortured, conflicted, sexy protagonist. Anna is an aging has-been rock singer. Boone, her long-suffering manager, has talked her into performing after a seven-year hiatus. Although Anna has been given a second chance, she wonders if she has ever been ready to be a musical star.

Settled in the bedroom of a borrowed apartment in Christiania, Copenhagen, Anna looks as if she could “vault into other people’s dreams and vault out again before daybreak.” Even through her bleary-eyed self-absorption there emerge flashes of humanity that keep her story true to its caricature—a free presentation of a dissolving personal life. She clearly loves her father, a renowned sculptor who cuts in half large projects such as trains and buildings, and also her married architect lover, Simon, whom she met while on tour in London.

Anna’s own talent may not be impressive as her father’s. She seems content to capitalize on the “glamour of her pedigree” and on her fellow band members, those who continue to support her: Zach, Alicia, and Billy, the three “zaftig” who, in a haze of coke and ecstasy, are content to hang out and do crazy stuff with this legendary redheaded rocker. Anna may coexist with this crème of musicians, but D’erasmo’s tone is sharp to the tune of this narcissistic woman, so self-absorbed in her touring rock ‘n’ roll life with little—if any—time for anything else. Like Alice in Wonderland, constantly running from door to door, Anna’s aching need for love and approval is constantly on display.

As D’erasmo’s chapters unfolded like the pages of a diary, I was left feeling a bit ambivalent about the novel, even long after finishing it. I’m unfamiliar with the rock ‘n’ roll world and all of the eccentrics who inhabit it. I liked the story but found it hard to identity with these people so full of “jaggered edges,” urgently flitting from town to town and city to city. They are trying desperately to reignite Anna’s career, one made famous by the song “Wonderland”—the song with a reindeer in it, a song that conveys great hope and sadness and creates an atonal bridge that “whispers and buzzes” throughout Anna’s tour.

Apart from Anna, not one other character is particularly distinctive, surprising considering the tale is packed with ambitious snake-hipped drummers, bass players, back-up singers, and demi-artists. I’m not even sure I liked Anna’s handsome Simon, for all his presumed love and loyalty. He’s a “one-dimensional ghost” and “existential refugee.” The distance between Anna and Simon, once so grounded in reality, quickly collapses in the later half of the story.

This is the kind of novel that should have packed a raw emotional punch—not cheap sentimentality, but real emotions and angst for which there can be no easy or glib response. D’erasmo is great at writing Anna and Simon’s sex scenes and breathing fresh energy into Anna’s performances in the various clubs and stadiums throughout Europe. The author is also good at projecting Anna’s version of her love for her father (full of passionate declamations) even when it sometimes loses out to the demands of her career.

Amidst Anna’s constant unraveling, the reader—through D’erasmo’s short, abrupt chapters—is given a tangible sense of Anna’s confusion and her struggle to re-calibrate her singing. But for all Anna’s pining, dysfunctions and painstakingly slow, endless emotional struggles, the novel ends with too many questions and unresolved issues that could have been communicated much more clearly.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Michael Leonard, 2014

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