Stone Arabia by Dana Spiotta

by Emma Ashmere

Dana Spiotta’s very cool new novel ‘Stone Arabia’ zeroes in on the life of Nik Worth, a self-styled ‘secret rock star’. It all starts on Nik’s tenth birthday when his usually-absent father shocks everyone by appearing and giving him a guitar. By 1973, Nik has left behind his MAD comics and formed the band The Demonics. They soon score a regular warm up gig in a cruddy bar playing ‘early in the evening’ when nobody is ‘really there.’ Nik realises his dream of being a virtuoso guitarist is over. Turning his talents to writing, he pens hundreds of songs but The Demonics can only remember ten and they soon become ‘sick of themselves’ and go their separate ways.

From the late 1970s to the early 2000s, Nik details the many phases of his eclectic underground career in a vast but scrupulously organised collection called ‘The Chronicles’. His garage is crammed with folders packed with pop and experimental CDs, artwork for album covers, good and bad reviews in major music magazines, and fanzine commentaries about his likes and dislikes. There are even letters from his sister, Denise Kranis, written to her daughter Ada about Nik’s profound influence on the LA and international indie music scene.

The only problem is – everything is fake.

Denise has always encouraged and supported her brother’s obsessive documentation of his imagined life. Convinced of Nik’s musical genius, she is the second person to receive his new limited edition CDs ‘released’ with artist photos and faux reviews.

But Denise has just turned forty-seven. Nik is broke. As their mother plunges further into the sad and chaotic world of Alzheimers, Denise slides into her own vortex of obsessions. Her fear of memory loss sends her researching endlessly on the internet, or staring at the 24 hour news channel waiting for the next fascinating but horrifying ‘breaking news’ story.

When Denise’s techno-savvy daughter Ada, proposes making a documentary about Nik and his remarkable private archive, Denise isn’t sure what she feels. ‘Do you need an audience to create work,’ Ada asks on her blog, ‘or does not having an audience liberate you?’

A senior creative writing lecturer in New York, Spiotta’s witty and affectionate reflection on the early punk scene and razor sharp take on contemporary society’s addiction to self-promotion, is reminiscent of Lionel Shriver’s work. I can see why several not-so-secret international rock stars and musos have nominated ‘Stone Arabia’ as a favourite.

Published in the Northern Rivers Echo

Emma’s short stories have been widely published including in The Age, Commonwealth Writers Magazine adda, Griffith Review, Overland, Review of Australian Fiction, Sleepers Almanac, and on three Brisbane billboards for #8wordstory. She was shortlisted for the 2019 Commonwealth Short Story Prize, 2019 Newcastle Short Story Prize, 2018 Overland/NUW Fair Australia Prize and 2001 Age Short Story Award. Her debut novel The Floating Garden was shortlisted for the 2016 Small Press Network MUBA prize. Her short story collection Dreams They Forgot will be published in May 2020 by Wakefield Press.