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Archive for July, 2010

Book Trailer for Give the Drummer Some!

Thursday, July 29, 2010 @ 01:07 PM  posted by Mark
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Official Website for Give the Drummer Some is live!

Saturday, July 24, 2010 @ 06:07 PM  posted by Mark

St. Louis from the Illinois side of the Mississippi River

The publisher’s website for Give the Drummer Some is live and full of features, funky songs and videos about soul music, St. Louis, the history of funk and the record industry. You can take virtual tours of Soulard (the neighborhood in downtown St. Louis where much of the book is set), East St. Louis and Brooklyn, Illinois. Because the novel takes place during winter and the snowy weather plays an important part in the story, it even snows all over the book’s website. Check it out!

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The Other Side of What

Saturday, July 24, 2010 @ 10:07 AM  posted by Mark

Shannon Yarbrough’s first novel The Other Side of What, a languid coming-of-age story with vivid characters and memorable descriptions of its Memphis setting, mimics the process of growing up that it describes, becoming more confident as its story progresses. Ultimately, though, like its narrator, it clings to a naivete that doesn’t quite allow it to mature.

The novel begins as the gay narrator Matthew moves from a small Tennessee backwater to Memphis, the metropolis of his youth, and his search for love in his new home forms the meat of the story. Through the course of several deftly described romantic relationships of increasing seriousness, Matthew maintains a personal detachment from his new friends and lovers, keeping key elements of his past and identity hidden—partly out of embarrassment about his hicks-in-the-sticks family and partly in an effort to shape his friends’ perceptions of his still-developing new persona. The Other Side of What explores the emotional impact of Matthew’s secrets, both on himself and the people around him, who all have secrets of their own. In Yarbrough’s story, the human heart is the ultimate secret, and the struggle to reveal the heart’s secrets is the whole meaning of human relationships. Though the content of the story is not religious, its structure follows a classic Original Sin thesis: we all have secrets because we’re human, and to the extent that we can unburden ourselves of those secrets and live honestly, we achieve redemption and become worthy of love.

The Other Side of What gains its strength from a combination of glibness and meditative reflection. The matter-of-fact debauchery of Matthew’s introduction to the Memphis gay scene, which is also his introduction to the Memphis drug scene, adds grit to Matthew’s otherwise ingenuous, naive and self-deprecating narration. The colorful characters he meets as he navigates and then rejects the drug sub-culture remain friends throughout, and a spitfire art dealer named Zoe befriends Matthew and becomes his confidant. Through sharp dialogue, Matthew’s relationships develop intimacy and snappy camaraderie, and the three intersecting secrets that weave together Mathew’s lover Seth, his brother Ethan, and his friends Jacob and Vance illustrate common, even archetypal tendencies that we all share and that subvert our attempts to fully trust each other.

However, the novel itself suffers from an inability to be completely honest with the reader, so that its story remains unredeemed and its narrator doesn’t fully earn our trust. This is especially true of the story’s climax, when the novel changes narrators suddenly and inexplicably, alienating the reader and casting doubt on much of what has come before. Specifically, the novel switches from reliable first-person to omniscient third-person to unreliable first-person back to reliable first-person narrators in the span of just a few pages at the story’s most critical point, betraying an unwillingness to face the implications of its own plot. This narrative waffling is the more unfortunate because of the charm of the narrator and story up until that point, and because of the potentially explosive conclusion that the story shies away from, involving a love triangle, buried family secrets and the kind of gothic horror found almost nowhere else but in Southern fiction.

Yarbrough’s descriptions of a snowy Memphis, his clever mistaken-identities plot, and his tender handling of the first blush of romance between Matthew and Seth are all admirable and recommend the novel, but these virtues are mixed with an ending that settles for the comic instead of exploring the deeper emotional complexities of its plot and that becomes confused in its execution as a result. A good first novel that points toward Yarbrough’s more mature later work, The Other Side of What still leaves the reader wanting more.

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Galleys of Give the Drummer Some Just Arrived!

Thursday, July 15, 2010 @ 03:07 PM  posted by Mark

Galley/review copies of my new novel Give the Drummer Some just arrived. We’re planning a release party in August when the novel becomes available for sale, and a tour in September and October!

Give the Drummer Some tells the story of Mouse Watkins, leader of the Bad Apples—the funkiest old school soul band in St. Louis. For twenty years, he’s been laying down smoking grooves, tasty rhythms and gutbucket funk in dance clubs up and down the Mississippi, always one break away from the Big Time. But Mouse is starting to wonder if his break will ever come.

Mouse’s best friend has disappeared with the Bad Apples’ last dollar, his tour van won’t start and a groupie stole his only warm coat at the band’s last show. Now, with no stomach for starting over (again) and a bleak winter on the horizon, Mouse washes up in East St. Louis, exactly where he started two decades ago. His dreams have come to nothing. Or have they?

Give the Drummer Some
is an odyssey into the heart of pop music and the soul of St. Louis, a book about the choices all artists, even great artists, have to make when the brilliant spotlight of stardom fails to shine on them.

I’ll announce details of the release party and tour when I know them. In the meantime, take a cue from the Godfather of Soul and Think (about the Funk!).

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