This is one of those times when I’m almost completely stumped as to how to reflect on a work I’ve read. I debated in my head what I wanted to rate this book because there were times when it had me, there were times it completely lost me, and yet somehow in the go-betweens, I found a way to push through the narrative enough to care where where it went to the end. Note to all, though, I don’t think this book will strike home with everyone who picks it up. And I’m wondering just how much of a fit this book is with its purported audience (Young Adult), because I’m thinking it might be almost better for an audience that’s a little older than that – not just for thematics, but for the references themselves.
“All Our Pretty Songs” is Sarah McCarry’s version of a punk/dream pop/shoegaze and sex/drug fueled modern retelling/structuring of the myth surrounding Orpheus. (I’m not kidding, that’s probably the best way I can summarize it.) It sounds really interesting from that description alone, there are times when it really IS interesting to follow – if it can hold and keep your attention. It’s beautifully written and has a sharp eye for details. But as I said in a review earlier this year about Alaya Dawn Johnson’s “The Summer Prince” – you can have the most compelling, beautiful prose and set of ideas, but if it doesn’t have some form for structure, it can fall flat on its face in the execution. I think McCarry’s narrative knew where it wanted to go, but it didn’t frame the story enough to keep me following without quite a bit of patience and effort. That was my main problem with the narrative, alongside the lack of streamlining for details. It even took me a while to understand that this was drawing upon Orpheus because the ties are so loose. I imagine people who have less patience would have a hard time keeping interest in it for its convoluted style.
The story’s told from the perspective of a nameless narrator, which might seem odd to quite a few people going in. It tells of the relations between said narrator and her friends Jack and Aurora. Jack is a up and coming musician with a heartfelt dedication to his craft, while Aurora is a free-spirited girl who pines after her dead musician father. Aurora and the nameless protagonist are inseparable, almost like “twins”, but the two are pulled apart in this music filled, convoluted journey with images of death and darkness, among a decent into Hell. I so wish that the story could’ve been better streamlined, because I think this story could’ve been brilliant for what it aimed to do and for the backing. There are a lot of music references in here that not only bog down the narrative for details, but I’m not so sure that the audience that it’s aimed for (YA) will necessarily pick up those details as readily. Heck, Jesus and Mary Chain, among other noted bands like Earth, etc., were known specifically in that time of the 80s and early 90s that the references made may be lost and not appreciated as much as it would be among an older audience (not to mention the mature content that this work imparts on the sex and drug notations).
It’s ambitious, and I’m not going to say that this work wouldn’t find an audience for what it offers, but it’s a very difficult sell – and it may leave people on either end of the scales as far as being able to take what it provides. I’m curious as to where McCarry will take this narrative, despite its meandering focus, so I’d read the sequel, but I hope that the presentation is MUCH more even in the follow-up versus this one. I’m glad to have read something with not only a diverse cast of characters, but also a narrative where the journey encompasses the protagonist’s efforts in finding those that she loved and realizing that relationships and life doesn’t always take on the pleasant tones that sweep us away.
Overall score: 2.5/5 stars
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher St. Martin’s Press.