When a superstar rock band starts slipping down the charts, it’s time for the lead singer to take a road trip in Ward’s novel.
British band Fully Magic Coal Tar Lounge have, despite their rather unwieldy moniker, been riding a wave as one of the world’s most successful rock acts. When their latest single charts in the United Kingdom at No. 7 and drops to No. 13 in the space of a week, they start to think a touch of reinvention might be necessary. For lead singer Soraya Snow and manager Hannah Lexingwood, this seems like a perfect time to take off on an anonymous, low-key, culture-seeking voyage across America. They want to go far off the regular tourist trail, so they hire Harlinne Vobrosky, an enigmatic public relations specialist who’s managed to get them on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar, to organize the itinerary. On Harlinne’s instruction, they’ll surrender their passports, phones, and credit cards on arrival in the United States and fend for themselves—precisely the kind of adventure they want. Harlinne, though, is a more complicated person than they bargained for, and the FBI starts taking an interest in them. Ward’s debut is undeniably entertaining, although it’s not always clear what it’s aiming to achieve. It’s part chick-lit family melodrama, part Coen brothers–style odyssey, part FBI thriller, and as a result, readers will get the distinct sense that, like Soraya and Hannah, Ward isn’t entirely sure where the story’s going. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing; his quirky, free-wheeling narrative generally works, and his prose is often impressive. However, in the end, the whole doesn’t quite add up to the sum of its parts. It builds slowly—the trip itself doesn’t materialize until around the book’s halfway mark—and the America they eventually encounter feels strangely muted. Even the frequent references to counterculture icons (Jack Kerouac, Ken Kesey, and others) end up serving as a reminder that Generation Y’s version of rock ’n’ roll isn’t nearly as dangerous as the original.
A funny, moving, but slightly safe tribute to millennial culture.
Pub Date: today
Page Count: 376
Review Posted Online: May 8, 2020