cover image Songs in Ursa Major

Songs in Ursa Major

Emma Brodie. Knopf, $22.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-593-31862-1

Brodie’s breezy debut draws on the American soft rock music scene of the 1960s and ’70s to mixed results. In the summer of 1969, “heir apparent of folk rock” Jesse Reid is supposed to perform at a famous festival on an island off the coast of Massachusetts that bears more than a passing resemblance to Martha’s Vineyard. When Jesse is suddenly sidelined by a motorcycle accident, local band The Breakers, led by 19-year-old Jane Quinn, takes his place, to resounding success. Soon, Jesse’s manager offers to make Jane a star, and Jane visits gorgeous, tormented Jesse at his parents’ island mansion, where he is recovering from his injuries. After Jane and her band get a record contract and start touring with Jesse, Jane and Jesse become romantically involved, and she becomes aware of his increasing dependence on drugs. Brodie’s narrative is at its best when focused on the mechanics and politics of music production, which emerge from the perspectives of the band’s manager and sound engineer. Brodie also has a clear grasp of the hurdles faced by Jane as a female musician, but the romantic and erotic aspects of the novel are less convincing (“his hands gripping her hips like handles on a plow”). In the end, this riff on A Star Is Born doesn’t transcend its well-worn origins. (June)