All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Perfect Tunes by Emily Gould

on October 15, 2020

Perfect Tunes
Emily Gould
Scriber UK
2020, 270p
Copy courtesy Simon & Schuster AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

The perfect song. The biggest dream. The love of her life.

It’s the early days of the new millennium, and Laura has arrived in New York City’s East Village in the hopes of recording her first album. A songwriter with a one-of-a-kind talent, she’s just beginning to book gigs with her beautiful best friend when she falls hard for a troubled but magnetic musician whose star is on the rise. Their time together is stormy and short-lived – but will reverberate for the rest of Laura’s life.

Fifteen years later, Laura’s teenage daughter is asking questions about her father, questions Laura does not want to answer. Laura has built a stable life in Brooklyn that bears little resemblance to the one she envisioned all those years ago, and she’s taken pains to close the door on what was and what might have been. When her best friend – now a famous musician – comes to town, opportunity knocks for Laura for a second time. Has growing older changed who she is and what she most wants? After all the sacrifices and compromises she’s made along the way, how much is she still that girl from Ohio, with big talent and big dreams?

Funny, wise and tender-hearted, Perfect Tunes explores the fault lines in our most important relationships, and asks whether dreams deferred can ever be reclaimed.

I was at university in 2001, when New York was in the news for months. This book begins just a little before that – Laura is from the Midwest but she’s finished university and has moved to New York to link back up with her high school best friend Callie, who went to university there. Laura dabbled in songwriting and has always longed to make music her career but it’s because of Callie that they get noticed. She turns heads and even though music isn’t really what she wants, it seems to be the only way Laura gets noticed. Through Callie she meets Dylan, guitarist of a band just about to hit it big. Dylan is moody and brilliant but occasionally dismissive of Laura’s musical ability. Just when they might get a big break, Laura is hit with two devastating things that impact her in the months after 9/11. She must make a choice and decide where a musical career lies in her priorities.

I think New York always makes for an interesting setting for these college or post-college novels – it has such atmosphere and I think it’s what people think of when they think of starving artist types trying to make it big in their chosen fields, be they writing, art, music, etc. It has a great music scene, especially at the time this novel is set where there were a lot of emerging bands in that garage rock style, playing gigs in dive bars and the like. The guy Laura meets is on the cusp of something big, they’ve been chosen to open for a highly successful band and they’re going places. What they have isn’t really a relationship and I think people will relate to that too. Dylan is not necessarily a bad boy as such but he’s got some issues: he’s pretty heavily into drugs and alcohol and it comes out later that there’s definitely some depression and maybe even deeper psychological issues in his family. He and Laura hook up and she’s aware of wanting more but not sure how to approach it. Her friend Callie says that she won’t/can’t change him and shouldn’t even bother. Just be happy with what it is, or move on. But before Laura can even make a choice about that, everything changes.

Laura goes from this carefree life working as a server in a bar earning tips, trying to make it musically, to having this responsibility. To not being able to make ends meet, dodging her landlord when she’s behind in the rent. But she doesn’t ever seem to really consider leaving New York, instead finding creative ways to make it work, teaching music and carving a market for herself. She’s mostly on her own, except when she begs Callie for assistance in emergencies and she has to watch as Callie achieves the recognition and success that Laura desired, despite not seeming to have the talent. For Callie it was charisma and being in the right place at the right time.

The story skips forward several times, settling when Laura is in her mid-thirties and struggling with her now-teenage daughter. I’m probably showing my naïveté here in parenting teenagers (my eldest is 12) but I found the behaviour concerning and everyone’s reluctance to address it even more so. There are some underlying issues but as the “difficult” child, she seems to get away with a lot, draw a lot of attention often to the detriment of others and pretty much seems to just do as she likes. I have to admit, when the narrative did skip forward to this section, I became less interested in the story. I was enjoying Laura struggling to find herself, to reconcile the idea of the direction her life had taken with her desire to play music and be successful, to be “discovered”. The domesticity of the more present day and the focus around her daughter was not as compelling plus the friendship with Callie, which had continued throughout the years despite the different trajectory their lives had taken, felt toxic and one-sided, like Callie was getting all the benefits and Laura pretty much none. And perhaps that had actually been the case the whole time but it seemed more amplified in the later years, when Callie would swan in from her exotic life, meet with Laura and want things from her, despite the fact that Laura was the one who was snowed under and busy, not living a hugely comfortable life. She was living the life Laura had dreamed of for herself and seemed almost irritated that Laura had made another choice and wasn’t there to prop Callie up when her shortcomings were showing.

This was ok but…..I actually thought there’d be more of a focus on music. It started off in that way but then became a more backseat part of the plot as Laura’s concerns changed to parenting and Marie’s behaviour. I found the first part of the novel much more interesting than the second.

6/10

Book #200 of 2020

I’m running out of time, so I’m using this book to check off #10 – About a woman artist. Laura is a singer/songwriter/musician who dedicates her life to it, even during hard times such as after Marie’s birth. It’s the 17th book read for the Reading Women Challenge of 2020, so I have 9 to go.


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