Music Book Review: The Unabridged Songwriter

The Unabridged SongwriterThe Unabridged Songwriter by John McNamara

My rating: 5 of 5 stars (Genre: literary fiction about music/musicians)

While the song-craft portions of this novel may make readers feel a bit left out of the conversation, there is a lot to make slogging through these bits worth the work. As an experienced music-blogger I found the musicians in this novel to be very recognizable, realistic portrayals of songwriters, dealing with alternating bouts of overinflated self-importance (vital to writing and promoting one’s songs) and self doubt. The scene at the open mic reminded me of nights spent at my own favorite open mic, and if you fantasize about playing at open mics, or if you are a performer, you’ll enjoy this part of McNamara’s novel.

Duncan Chase is a 49yr-old songwriter with some major successes under his belt, albeit from many years ago. He’s rested on his laurels ever since, crafting and selling decent but uninspired songs ever since, and wallowing in self-pity and self-created isolation. He has an anxiety disorder, which at one time was a very real excuse for avoiding uncomfortable people and situations, but he’s been on medication for years now and still lives as he did before he found the medication that has made his anxiety attacks just a memory. If he needs an additional excuse to avoid actually living his life, his tragically deceased wife remains a part of his life he has not come to terms with. In fact, for 25 years, his anxiety and his dead wife have been the themes of his existence, but it is time to resume the effort of growing up and taking charge of his life. When Duncan meets a pretty woman half his age, a talented young songwriter visiting from out of state (she gets the slot before his at an open mic, in a venue that reminds me of Lucky Joe’s Sunday night open mics), Duncan is propelled into a new burst of self-motivation to finally do something with himself.

I didn’t have much sympathy for Duncan (can you tell?) but the novel was well written and Duncan, while pathetic at times, is a realistic and understandable protagonist, and a man very much like real musicians I’ve known. I didn’t like that the women in this book were all cast as love interests or minor supporting characters, but within the context of the story it work well enough. I’d have enjoyed the book more if the ‘love interest’ had been developed just a bit more, for instance, but that would have necessitated a longer book, and the length of this novel, as is, was just about right. In short, while my version of this book would be different, this was a very good novel. McNamara does an excellent job portraying anxiety disorder and the way this mental illness affects Duncan, not just during anxiety attacks but all the time. His treatment of suicide and depression wound up being a bit less satisfying, but again, that story might have needed a whole second book.

View all my reviews

About Ravenmount

Independent science nerd/writer/music blogger/arts enthusiast/theorist currently in Colorado.
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