Jett Reviews Beside the Music by BJ Knapp

Posted: February 20, 2016 in Reviews
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This wasn’t the book I was expecting when I heard about it. Rock band moves in with a woman and tests her already troubled marriage. But then again, maybe I’m not sure what I was expecting. Not really. This could have gone a million directions.

Brenda Dunkirk is in her thirties when she writes a letter to her rock hero, Hydra’s Keith Kutter. And somehow, she winds up first having dinner with the guy—who, contrary to most Rock Fiction, shows up as an utter jerk—and then renting out her house and backyard to Keith and his band as they write a new album. Why her house? Because Keith comes over, becomes enchanted with her wind chimes, she just so happens to know of a recording studio he can use, and the band’s diva manager decides the band absolutely must not change their setting while they write a new album.

Has anyone asked the band what they want to do?

Now, in the middle of this mix is Brenda and her husband, Tim. They’re struggling to stay together. He’s running for the State Senate and she’s gunning for a promotion at work. There’s a lot at stake here, but they don’t seem to care. Nope. This was Brenda’s dream and so Tim tells her to go for it, despite his reservations.

This is one of the book’s big sticking points for me. At times, Tim is completely indifferent to Brenda. At times, he’s disdainful of her. And then at other times, he’s totally romantic and working to be a good partner. There’s never much of a sense that he’s struggling with how he feels about her. This makes it hard to get to know him. In fact, the most important thing in his life seems to be the Senate race, yet we don’t know why it’s important to him. Not really. Maybe we’re told, but we don’t see or feel his passion for it.

He’s also a mama’s boy, who has no guts or gumption where Mama Portia is concerned, and it’s clear he puts her before his wife. Another thing I’m not sure of is why Brenda loves him—or why she stays with such a wuss. Cut your losses, girl!

Adding to Tim’s wussy confusion and after a series of passive aggressive responses to the band’s antics, he finally takes a stand against Brenda and the band. Of course, he does it without ever speaking to the band. Because Tim’s the man.

Plot holes abound when the band moves in. There are fans who camp out in the front yard and an entire tent city in the backyard, but the neighbors never complain and, in this age of social media, no one ever asks or finds out what’s going on. Don’t Brenda and Tim talk to their neighbors? Aren’t there any nosy teenagers nearby? Can’t the people next door see into the yard and wonder about the tents, or report the Senator-to-be for jamming too many people onto his property? No one alerts the media? Really? Even when that drumset in the garage gets played?

This setup could totally smear Tim and his campaign, but no one seems to catch on. I just don’t buy it, even when explanations are offered. Maybe in the eighties, but this book is set in the present day. You’d expect a public relations whiz like Brenda keeps telling us she is to have even a basic understanding of social media.

The band generally is not much more than a cliché. Sex, drugs, prostitutes, a disregard for Brenda and Tim and their home… it’s all there. And to Knapp’s credit, once Keith is an asshole, he remains an asshole. No easy redemption for him, and that’s a bonus. He has some good personality quirks, too, so bonus points for that.

Brenda, though, drove me up a couple of walls. She’s hard to like because she’s such a groupie even now. Age and experience hasn’t kicked in for her, and she’s got no real distance from her youth. She talks about what a great public relations person she is, and we hear about all the stuff she’d do for the band, but she’s more interested in being a muse for lyrics and living out her groupie fantasies than she is in truly helping this band she claims is so important to her. If you want to be valuable to the big dogs, you learn to adapt, and fast. Brenda never does. She never even tries to gain an authority and authenticity with the band; she’s never more than a doormat until it comes to be time for the book’s climax.

This doormat tendency is a serious problem for me. Her grasp of her own personal power comes in one or two moments of glory, and then she’s right back to being a doormat again. Now, she does work for a manipulative bitch of a boss, who holds a promotion over her head at all times, and her mother-in-law is even worse and has a beautifully oedipal situation with her son, Brenda’s husband. She does have these things working against her. But come on. She feels like such a powerless character, and that’s not the trend in fiction right now.

I could argue that it’s nice to see an author fighting against the trends, and it is, but doormats were never my thing, in real life or in fiction. Brenda doesn’t have to be a kick-ass heroine who fixes everything singlehandedly without breaking a sweat or knocking a hair out of place.

I’d just like to see more of her strength and creativity.

Was it worth a read? For the sheer cleverness of the way the Rock Fiction angle is handled, yes. I like the potential here. I like how Knapp uses the band and the lifestyle to draw a sharp contrast to Brenda’s life. I like that Brenda isn’t willing to conform to the Hydra lifestyle just because they are in her house, and I like that she sees things in her husband that I don’t and that she does fight for him, even if I don’t fully understand why.

And I like that this isn’t the same old, same old. It may not have been 100%, but it’s sure a lot better than the formula I’ve seen too much of lately. Huge kudos for that.

So… thanks to NetGalley for the review copy. I’m glad to see Rock Fiction that isn’t the typical plotline, and I’m glad to see places like NetGalley bringing Rock Fiction to the world. Keep the creative plots coming, authors.

 

In case you missed it, this review copy came from NetGalley in exchange for Jett’s honest opinion. They didn’t pay me, no one around here got anything other than a free  book and a headache ’cause Jett’s slower than Susan is, if that’s possible.

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