Quill and Quire

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The Angel Riots

by Ibi Kaslik

Great rock ’n’ roll novels are hard to come by, probably because the kind of anarchic energy that drives the best rock music is difficult to translate onto the page. In her second novel, Ibi Kaslik takes up the challenge, telling the story of the Angel Riots, a fictional Montreal rock collective that bears superficial resemblance to both Broken Social Scene and Arcade Fire. As the band begins to gain notice, they embark on an American concert tour that will ultimately test the abilities of the various musicians to hold together, both professionally and personally.

Like Kaslik’s debut, Skinny, the new novel is narrated from two distinct points of view. Alternating chapters are told from the perspective of Jim, an eighteen-year-old female violinist, and Rize, a self-destructive trombone player. The two narrative streams give Kaslik’s story the effect of counterpoint, which is appropriate in a novel that deals so intimately with the lives of touring musicians.

Kaslik is clearly well versed in the pressures that life on the road exerts. The descriptions of booze- and drug-fuelled nights – and the toll they take on the various band members – have the ring of authenticity to them. So, too, does the sense of tedium that develops over time; Jim feels “no distinction between days and nights” and suffers from the sense that they are “all living the same boring beer-filled day, over and over, without a tear in the fabric of this reality.”

It’s difficult to convey tedium in prose without the prose itself becoming tedious, and there are sections in this (admittedly fairly brief) novel that drag. Kaslik’s writing is very tightly calibrated, but this itself is something of a drawback in a novel about the vicissitudes of life on the road for a rock band: what she gains in control, she loses in immediacy.