Power Ballads

Will Boast. Univ. of Iowa, $16 trade paper (184p) ISBN 978-1-60938-042-7
Boast's relaxed prose perfectly suits the 10 stories in this 2011 winner of the Iowa Short Fiction Award. Set mostly in the Midwest, among musicians who are affluent, indigent, and all points in-between, Boast's narratives don't depend on turning points. The shared experiences of his characters lend resonance to these portraits; he finds variety within these parameters, achieving a fine balance between the universal and the distinct. Be it an unambitious jazz musician, still the center of his father's universe despite not following his advice ("Beginners"), a church choir simmering with family-like rivalries and upheavals ("Mr. Fern, Freestyle"), or a musician's midlife crisis ("The Bridge"), everyone shares a common attribute, with varying degrees of conviction: they feel grounded in their music. Boast is at his best when depicting the immediacy of an experience; when the music stops, events can feel contrived, such as in "Sitting In," which charts a teenage boy's gradual displacement of a mediocre musician in his father's polka band, a sublime story until Boast undercuts the impact with a forced resolution and retrospective coda. But, on balance, this is a fresh and honest debut, and the rare collection whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 07/04/2011
Release date: 09/01/2011
Genre: Fiction
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