cover image Flesh Guitar

Flesh Guitar

Geoff Nicholson. Overlook Press, $29.95 (236pp) ISBN 978-0-87951-920-9

British cult novelist Nicholson's talent for sheer verbal flash is on display in his sixth novel (Hunters and Gatherers, etc.) to appear in the U.S. The book is laid out like a CD, with the ""cuts"" being short takes on the life of one Jenny Slade, a legendary electric guitarist. We first glimpse Jenny coming into the Havoc Bar and Grill, where she pulls out a guitar that sprouts hair and appears to be made of some disturbingly human substance, and improvises music of ""the sound of planets melting, of death factories imploding, of mythical beasts being slaughtered."" Following her exit from the bar is the entrance of Bob Arnold, self-described number one Jenny Slade fan and obsessed editor/writer of the fanzine Journal of Sladean Studies. The book alternates between pieces in Bob Arnold's magazine; stories he tells the Havoc barmaid, Kate; and fragments where Jenny is set loose, like a tough, sexy guardian angel of rock 'n' roll history. She time-travels to give a teenage Frank Zappa some career advice, confronts Jimi Hendrix on the subject of sexism and even helps Kurt Cobain find the right words for his suicide note. The loose structure accommodates Nicholson's taste for parody and pastiche. There are send-ups of Moby Dick, Borges and Kafka, and witty takeoffs on emblematic rock phenomena. A running gag involves Jenny's on-again off-again partnership with composer Tom Scorn, who takes the performative aspects of music to disturbing new heights. Liberally sprinkled with esoteric references and subtext completely comprehensible only to rock 'n' roll cognoscenti, this is a clever montage rife with signature black humor and ultra-hip self-consciousness, further evidence of this writer's zany imagination. (Feb.)