I had so much hope for this book – 90s, time travel, “for fans of High Fidelity,” rock and roll – but I’m bummed to report that I was disappointed. While there were lots of fun and clever aspects to the book, so much of the story was telegraphed that it didn’t always keep my attention.
What was good:
Name-checking real OG female journalists was cool – i.e. Jessica Hopper whose book I reviewed in 2020: https://lauralieff.com/the-first-collection-of-criticism-by-a-living-female-rock-critic/
And so was the reference to a fictional (?) piece of memorabilia called the Chicago Rock Catalog that listed every concert that took place in the city since 1978.
The characters in this book (and therefore author Andy Frye as well) are clearly music fans – especially our protagonist, Darby. While the book jacket teases going to Nirvana’s first gig, among other 90s legends, the book focused on a fictional band which resonated less.
Details that made the book feel more authentic were the seamless integration of trends like gas station jackets with random people’s names on them and bottles with melted candles sticking out. I remember wearing and doing both! Also, the mix of real and fictional bands sprinkled throughout the narrative was memorable including nods to Reality Bites and High Fidelity.
An entire conversation about how the 90s did movie soundtracks better than any other decade was one of my favorite exchanges of the book. I love that Reality Bites was name-checked, as well as Singles and Empire Records. Reminded me of the old Spec’s days.
Most of all, this book made me miss working in a record store.
What was lame:
Usually time travel stories feature some kind of “high stakes” aspect that is out of a character’s/the characters’ control regarding why and how they are traveling back in time. But that was not the case here which made it less exciting. If people can just hop on a train and end up in the 90s and then use a watch to get back whenever or however they want, the suspense is taken away from the story and therefore so is the adventure.
There’s a random side trip to Europe that was a waste of a chapter as it didn’t really add to the plot and distracted from the main character in favor of peripheral characters.
Too many characters are introduced rather focusing on Darby and her various friendships and relationships. I wanted more about her job as a music writer (obviously), as well as her coworkers who also love music, and less about random people like Ry-Guy (eye-roll) and Spiro. Also, the author could have done a lot more with the family tragedy aspect he brings in every so often.
The dedication: “A person often meets his destiny on the road he took to avoid it.” -Jean de La Fontaine
“Enjoying a landmark 90s record in full before the rabble seemed like a perfect way to start the day.”
“The world needs less Wall Street, more record stores.”
“Maybe tonight’s adventure would become another great story these best friends could gleefully rehash someday.”
“Bookstores are like fun libraries. Great for browsing, without all the rules.”
“learning to love all his music was the only way that she knew how to grieve”
“Darby explained that she saw [musicians] in the same context as important writers and literary giants.”
‘“You’re so Vail’ is pretty much Dorian Gray in a song.”
“She even made me a mixtape.” “Really? Big step.”
“I’m glad you like the band. I think they’re gonna be huge someday. Save the ticket stub.”
Of course the band reviews were some of my favorite parts of the book and therefore provide some of my favorite quotes: “[the band] will succeed in capturing hearts” and “Someday soon, your best option to see this band will be a stadium.” I’ve written reviews like that before: https://lauralieff.com/greta-van-fleet-dorothy-lit-up-the-fillmore/
“They had music in common – and that was something big.”
“Hard times call for dope rhymes.”
“We write good songs. That always fits somewhere.”