Play It Loud by Gina Lee Nelson
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Length: Full (156 pages)
Rating: 4 Books
Reviewed by Edelweiss
Claire Ashton-Howard strikes out on her own to prove to herself, her Upper East Side family, and Downtown Magazine, she has what it takes to be a journalist. When she rescues Evan Price from the path of an oncoming subway train, she stumbles onto the story of a lifetime.
A devastating motorcycle accident stripped Evan of icon status. Now ready to make a comeback, the former pop star must confront the demons in his past and convince Insignia Braff Music he's more than a has-been. Drawn to Claire's passion, Evan allows her into his guarded heart.
Revealing his painful secrets will cement her reputation. Little does Claire know that immersing herself in Evan's life will cause her to question herself. As the days pass, Claire's heart and head take sides.
The love of her life? Or the story of her life? She can't have both.
Claire is a Juilliard graduate who wants a career in journalism instead of music. This partly to spite her parents. While researching a story on Manhattan’s homeless, she meets Evan, a rock star whose career was interrupted a few years back by a motorcycle accident. Claire not only recognizes him but realizes what a career making story his comeback journey would make.
Claire swings into action, but ambition is soon complicated by emotion (and ethics) as the two fall for each other. Except…that Claire can’t make up her mind. Not only is she conflicted over deceiving Evan, she keeps changing her mind about him, romantically. Time and again we see her emotions swept by his good looks, his charm, his talent, only to be shut down by finding (or imagining) some fault in him. In chapter nine, she becomes convinced that he is an alcoholic, and that’s all she wrote, at least for the next scene or two. It makes for a halting love story, but it does build suspense about the outcome.
The author adds to the turbulence by building a staccato, almost scattershot quality into the love story’s progression. Just when the romance looks to be low key, and we are absorbed by the antics Claire executes to get her story, the romance kicks into high gear, going from awakening attraction, to first kiss, to dinner with Claire’s formidable parents, all in the space of a few days. This happens so fast, plot-wise, that we wonder whether perhaps we’ve missed something in between, something to explain these emotional leaps and bounds. But hold on; another woman complicates the sequence and Claire’s emotions are soon on strike. It’s a bit confusing, but it also has an exciting, almost breathless quality about it that will appeal to many readers. Claire is careening down an emotional hillside, banging into obstacles, her feet hardly touching the ground, and we too feel her exhilarating loss of gravity.
What steadies the story, and gives it real lift, is the portrayal of Manhattan’s music scene. For we see the characters, and their emotional progression, through the prism of places where music is played and means something to them. These settings range from a Juilliard auditorium, to a recording studio, to a jazz club, all the way to a Manhattan subway platform. This interweaving of musical places and happenings with the story’s characters gives special poignance to their emotional turning points. The drama of music, described in prose, gives this story something special: a moody if upbeat texture, moments of stillness poking through the plot’s frantic pace, and a uniqueness to the characters they wouldn’t otherwise have.
The prose is spare and whiplash quick in its flow, the plot surging ahead like a froth. But this book shows that spare can have drawbacks if taken too far. In the first two chapters, the prose moves so quickly that it maroons several pronouns, leaving the reader bewildered over which characters they refer to. Additionally, shifts in character viewpoint are abrupt and unconventional. This is not a serious issue in itself, but it does increase the vertigo caused by the bouncing plot.
But on standing back and viewing the reading experience overall, this one is a winner. Play It Loud is one of those books whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts, leaving the reader to ponder the story’s afterglow long after the pages are turned and shut.