Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Book Review: The Devil and Preston Black

My childhood home was pretty deceptive looking. On the outside it looked like a mobile home, but it had an addition built on to it, a massive den the size of the two bedrooms combined. This was everyone's sanctuary, with mom's sewing table in a corner, dad's massive pile of books in another and a card table that served as my arts and crafts table in later years but served as a gaming or puzzle table pretty much all the time.

At the far wall was the big built-in entertainment center, The TV sat high center, with all of the electronics on a shelf above it. On the shelf below the TV sat all the musical equipment, a reciever, a tape deck, in later years, a CD player and on top of all that, the record player. On either end were massive shelves filled to the brim with vinyl. I spent a good chunk listening to it, all of it. I had my favorites of course, guilty pleasures too, but I tried to take it all in. In the intervening years I'm still not sure I scratched the surface (Ha, see what I did there!) of the collection. But I loved all of it and am suddenly sad I didn't spend more time at the alter of the player. I probably would have had I not damaged the needle when I was eleven, which took my parents entirely too long to get fixed.

The Devil and Preston Black  is exactly what the title says it is. It's a book about Preston Black, a down-on-his-luck musician just trying to find his way and having to fight the devil to do it. It's about wayward rock idols, old music, ways of life on the verge of extinction and the character trying to figure out who he is when his entire history was a blank page. It's about music giving a life meaning when that life can't find the meaning on his own.

If Hellbender was my childhood diner, then  The Devil and Preston Black is the den of my childhood home, filled with scratched vinyl  and tuneful music both new and old. I haven't been this at home in a book in a long time, if you consider a place where the main character has very philosophical text conversations with Joe Strummer, argues with John Lennon and where Jerry Garcia's death bed felt quaint home, which I do.

But the book isn't just filled with musicians no longer with us, it's filled to the brim with music, so lively and fluid it came right off the page. I got into a twitter discussion with Jason Jack Miller where he mentioned that he was worried that the sections in which he described the music being played were too tedious, but to me they were some of the best parts because I was transported into the music. I haven't been able to read sheet music since around ninth grade and the talking about chord progressions wasn't something  I understood, but it's something I felt. I could feel how the music was taking place around him, how it progressed and shifted and was shaped while the characters were playing it.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I'm probably gonna run right out and by The Revelations of Preston Black just to be a completist (Sshhhh! Don't tell my husband). I'm giving this one an A+. It invoked my parents record collection for crying out loud. Any book that can do that gets an A+.

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