260 pages, Fiction
3 1/2 out of 5 stars
Some have described the college campus as a microcosm of American pop culture. The values of a typical college student often mirror—and sometimes predate—the narcissistic and shallow values of society at large. Star athletes are revered as gods, and beauty queens are worshiped and elevated, only to be torn down by the same people who exalted them in the first place. Men and women struggle to connect, form relationships, marry or break up. Surrounding all the fame and romance are the masses, watching from the sidelines and often fighting for the front row, to root for their heroes and cheer the fall of their adversaries.
Linda Gould’s The Rock Star’s Homecoming is a cynical but accurate story of a group of scheming and vulnerable college girls awaiting the return of their college’s homegrown rock band. As this politically charged campus anticipates a concert by the successful rock band the Sunburst, we enter a petty world of mistrust, gossip and cynicism where it’s normal to spend 75 minutes trashing your “friend.” I wish the world wasn’t like this, but it is. While it is hard to avoid the gossip and lust for fame that fuels our culture, at times The Rock Star’s Homecoming goes too far in its pettiness: it’s hard to imagine a football team failing to protect their star player during the homecoming game simply because they are jealous of his fame and future stardom.
The tone is confrontational and filled with hostility, and the characters clearly never learned the lessons of “Revenge of the Nerds” or “Can’t Buy Me Love…” that it doesn’t matter who you’re friends with, or to which social circle you belong. All that matters is that we’re in this together. Gould throws all platitudes aside and creates a world where everyone is out for themselves. This makes it hard to root for anyone, except for Imogene, a seemingly innocent student who is focused on writing her thesis on rock and folk music, using the Sunburst as her study.
Sunburst must be the most disorganized band ever and it’s a wonder how they ever got together in the first place. The end concert is chaotic. Their clumsy starts and stops are speckled with intermittent rambling by the band’s front man, who insults his audience and invokes an image of Jim Morrison’s drunken and buffoonish antics.
The story is short on character development simply because there are too many of them. There are even several characters that do not deserve a name and are referred to as “nondescripts.” They serve as a chorus, the voice of the people, which makes sense given the book’s commentary on pop culture (in a world of Academy Awards parties and celebrity gossip mags, aren’t we all nondescripts?). But at times these nameless girls are used to express dialogue when no other major character is there to say what needs to be said – and if that’s the case, why say it at all?
It’s an interesting campus story and Gould is a fine writer. There were many surprises, especially in the second half, and I was constantly wondering what would happen next. What does it say about our culture when a book with such petty squabbles made me nod and shake my head, knowing that Gould’s story of narcissism and mistrust was accurate and true to life? It made me wonder if we really are that bad…
Strengths: well-written prose, unpredictable story, filled with conflict, commentary on pop culture
Opportunities: characters crowd each other out and are hard to root for
Will appeal to: chicklit readers, college students
The Rock Star’s Homecoming is available on amazon.
Reviewed by Mark McGinty, August 2009