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Shadowbahn

An hypnotic mix of rock ‘n’ roll familial obsessions and an alternative American history Shadowbahn takes place in a world in which one afternoon in the not too distant future the Twin Towers suddenly appear in the middle of the Dakota BadlandsTens of t. the music became inextricable from the paroxysms of his country Did his country lead him to the music or did the music lead him to his countryi was so excited a few months back to hear that steve erickson had a new book coming out and so titillated by jonathan lethem s saying of it in granta wayyy back in december 2015 It s my best of the year but you can t read it yetI ve read every novel he s ever written and I ll still never know how he does it Erickson s not so much a writer s writer as a tour de forcer s tour de forcerBEST OF THE YEAR and he was saying that than a year before its publication date it s hard not to be intrigued by thatand i gotta say despite this being a great year for books already this one is definitely at the top of my list too of course since it s pubbing in 2017 who knows where it will end up but i m telling you this is some fantastic erickson herethis is my fifth book by him and it s hitting all the things i love about his writing his style is unmistakeable and i have this visceral warm bath response to it i don t even know how to describe it you just know it s him it s not necessarily in the themes or words although he does revisit a few touchpoints in his work music dread liminal spaces the national dark but there s something about his writing its urgencyintensitythe weight of his ideas beneath a deceptively delicate sentence flow i was hooked immediately into this one and it reminded me of The Sea Came in at Midnight one of my all time faves and its seuel Our Ecstatic Days that s not to say i understand all of this one because i don t it s steeped in a musical scholarship far beyond my own and he s very coy with the details referring to certain songs only by their lyrics or musicians by their biographical details i recognized plenty of the details including the nod to my beloved leonard cohen although SRSLY erickson you neglected the opportunity to uote tower of song in a book about a tower of songand there are times when he lost me with sentences reuiring some brow furrowed unpacking Neither has yet learned how time lays relentless siege to the denials of hearts drawn most inexorably to the truthbut as a writer character in this book claims Everything that every writer writes is about everything I doubt there s ever been a single word written by any writer who s ever lived that wasn t about everythingand that applies to erickson full bore at its most basic this book is about the sudden appearance in 2021 south dakota of the twin towers and in those towers or one of em anyway is the full grown manifestation of elvis stillborn twin brother jesse negating the life and influence of elvis causing an alt history ripple to barrel through the american landscape changing the entire shape of american music impacting the world beyond its borders spoiler alert no elvis no beatlesit s a playful road trip novel full of juxtapositions missed opportunities america rock and roll racism emptiness music crit social commentary supersonik the role of luck in both fame and history a mysterious secret highway connecting the american coasts and the idea of identity either of self cultural or national In the thirteen years since Zema came to America she has never had any idea that having no idea who she is and having no idea where she belongs makes her American than anyone it is indeed about everythingin many ways it reminded me of A Visit from the Goon Suad or delillo when he s on his game but it s a book whose connections are implicit or suggested rather than spelled out and a lot of it is hinged to the idea of twinnings twin brothers twin towers twin appearances of these towers alt world twin versions of historical figures surrogates commissioned to pass as a famous author across the world this warhol portrait of elvistwin playlists and songs paired up against each other in thematic face offs are these two songs infused with the spirit of a stillborn nation that wanders its own landscape trying to make sense of destiny trying to make sense of survival trying to make sense of which twin country is really left Which is the corporal and which is the ectoplasm Which is the reflected and which the reflection Which is the sun and which is the shadowhe even floats the twinning in the casual descriptions of musicians a Detroit ex husband wife team posing as brother and sister who could be twinsand there s the constant flipping of the world we know to show the stillborn world that might have been This moment like all of Jesse s moments exists within the shadow of the other life never livedit s just brilliant all around and if you don t understand all of it don t worry you ll still enjoy it and erickson s probably used to people getting lost in his books if the writer character s comment is any indication People always joked maybe that he should give up writing books for mixing drinks to which his father muttered Yeah no one s ever said I don t understand your martinian impressive achievement here trust me trust lethem trust erickson s reputation this is well worth your attentionbonus points for echoing TWO recurring themes twins and stillbornEEE fastest netgalley approval ever they could tell how badly i WANTED itWHO IS PUBLISHING THIS AND DO I KNOW ANYONE WHO WORKS THERE AND CAN I PLEASE HAVE A GIMMIEcome to my blog

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O watches the North Tower for signs of life when the tower’s “whole pointis its emptiness” and is haunted by the voice in his head of another America where his despised stillborn twin survived in his place and became the most famous singer of all time. There s music coming out of me that s not mine There s singing in my head that s not meThis was my first exposure to Steve Erickson astonishing given that the author has nine previous novels and has won both a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Lannan Lifetime Achievement Award I m not so enad of his method that I ll immediately hunt down the other nine novels but Shadowbahn represents such an odd representation of 21st century America I ll be trying to figure out what his visions mean for a long long timeMany reviews have focused on the explicit details of the novel how the Twin Towers of Sept 11 have magically reappeared in the South Dakota Badlands in 2021 and will make a habit of reappearing in random locations every 20 years henceforth How the stillborn twin brother of Elvis Presley has somehow taken the place of his brother but become a member of the Warhol Factory rather than a rock and roll pioneer How a brother and sister driving to Michigan have somehow become the central object of hatred of a fractured America dividing itself into Rupture zones with rebellious citizens somehow convinced that the sister has somehow stolen the collective music of America merely by playing her father s playlistsIt s a dazzlingly strange story all right made stranger by the fact that some sections of the book could be shuffled into random positions with the resulting novel still as coherent as the novel before us It s not just that Erickson provides us a nonlinear and dreamy narrative it s that the book is less a narrative than a series of prose poems resembling the linked stories of solitary living on the Irish coast in Claire Louise Bennett s Pond for example or resembling the odd specific and haunted essays of poet Mia Alvarado Erickson has given us a definite dreamscape as nothing stays the same for long And since most sub chapters last less than a page leaving plenty of white space in the book s layout the feeling that this is prose poetry is reinforcedPopular music is central to the book but popular defined in odd ways The overture and hit single for the book is Laurie Anderson s O Superman given its prescient reference to planes arriving Or maybe it s Oh Shenandoah Or a French chanson O Souverain Depends entirely on the dream you choose The reviewer in The New York Times Book Review admitted to being a wrong target for the book because an obsessive focus on music did not inform the reviewer s daily life I stopped dead in my tracks reading that admission I had thought a love for books and literary pursuits necessarily implied a deep obsession with music obviously shared by Parker and Zema s father and by Erickson himself Since this is my natural state of being no musical reference in the book was challenging to me and I should have realized that not every MFA or rabid devourer of books was also a music wonk But why should that not be so And why should not every MFA be a lover of higher order mathematics Since music and math are the most highly perfected languages it only stands to reason What s that tune and where is it coming fromIt s tempting to give this book the highest possible ranking because of the experiments in perception and music listening Erickson wants us to make yet sometimes his choices seem less than optimal For example he wants us to grasp the shadow twin or doppelganger nature of the Hugh Everett many worlds theory how just a slight shift can make histories radically change But why would he choose such trite and well worn culture heroes as Elvis JFK and Andy Warhol to make his points In his musical playlists he s not afraid to throw in Brian Eno and Goldfrapp so why not aim for something a little stranger than Valerie Solano and the Velvet Underground I understand Erickson wants to bring shadow histories to extremely well known culture heroes but I think a slightly obscure reference could have been found I m always harping about why we must have yet another history of the battle of Gettysburg when so many interesting histories of James Garfield s assassination or Franklin Pierce s political movements could be written Someone will inevitably answer that Gettysburg sells But the historian should dive into the shadow corners of history to illuminate secret events not seek to follow Bill O Reilly into the massively popular realm of fake historyErickson wants to preserve plenty of mysteries in his book but we often don t get anything close to a clear sense of why the Towers keep reappearing why music keeps vanishing or where the shadow highways are supposed to lead Yes these are the kind of cryptic passages that can make a novel haunt us for months but there often are too many gaps in the knowledge within Erickson s storyThe last 15 pages of this novel corresponding to Tracks 24 and 25 of the Infinite Playlist are a critical distillation of what Erickson wants to tell us Even if he does not make his intent clear we can clearly hear Laurie Anderson s voice in the background When justice is gone there s always force When force is gone there s always mom here come the planes they re American planes made in America so you d better get ready We somehow were ready for Sept 11 2001 long before it took place but we ve somehow also never recovered In the movie Arrival based on Ted Chiang s short story Story of Your Life it is clear in the non linear wholistic cursive language of the aliens that they are telling us that we must abandon linear time to move forward that the only way we become greater being is by remembering forward sacrificing a little of that imaginary free will to accept the totality of the trajectory of our lives and eventual death as one Erickson makes veiled references to this abandonment of time but ties it to the higher language of music which is always there and never there all at once And all of it has deep ties to the continued racial divides in the nationIn a traditional vein one can say that the ultimate book on race relations music and escapes from time s limitation is Richard Powers magnum opus The Time of our Singing Erickson s book is by contrast a brief and minimal poetic volume It has jumped out of the time constraints used by Powers It does not always make optimal use of the prose poem format and it does not always make clear what the continuing ghost of Sept 11 means and what those songs are that remain stuck in our head The book makes little attempt to explain what the shadowbahns really are and where they might take us But the music provided along those secret highways preceded our individual egos It was there in the womb before we took our first breaths and the soundtrack will continue after we leave Erickson s book is a travel map and tour guide for those secret singing highways not exhaustive or even very coherent but a fine collection of poetry

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Housands converge on what one newsmagazine calls the “American Stonehenge” as strange musical visions manifest themselves in a kind of sonic rorschach Living alone inside the South Tower is Jesse Garon Presley who happens to be Elvis’s twin brother wh. I am not even going to pretend the premise isn t crazy Twenty years after they fell the Twin Towers reappear in South Dakota They are as they were before 911except they seem to be singing and they are also completely devoid of people save one Jesse Garon Presley the twin brother of Elvis who in our reality died at birth I KNOW RIGHT It s bonkers But than just a bananapants premise it s a gorgeous novel of loss and alternate history deeply tied into American culture I was transfixedBacklist bump Zeroville by Steve Erickson This has my favorite ending of any novel everTune in to our weekly podcast dedicated to all things new books All The Books


About the Author: Steve Erickson

Steve Erickson is the author of ten novels Days Between Stations Rubicon Beach Tours of the Black Clock Arc d'X Amnesiascope The Sea Came in at Midnight Our Ecstatic Days Zeroville These Dreams of You and Shadowbahn He also has written two books about American politics and popular culture Leap Year and American Nomad Numerous editions have been published in English Spanish French Ge



10 thoughts on “Shadowbahn

  1. says:

    the music became inextricable from the paroxysms of his country Did his country lead him to the music or did the music lea

  2. says:

    See Toldja that whole Beatles Man or Elvis Man dichotomy was bullshit I am in both camps which means that Steve Erickson believes I a

  3. says:

    This was a brilliant collage of short narratives on America as ephemeral dreamscape and one man’s attempt to env

  4. says:

    Premise the Twin Towers mysteriously appear on the Badlands of South Dakota from them comes a stream of music and everyone hears a different song Isn’t that a cool idea? I thought so when I reuested a review copy I imagined something of the order of a Tim Powers novel with flights of wacky imagination resolving into a story that

  5. says:

    Did not finish gave up at 47% Couldn’t get into it although the premise is so interesting However the very short chapters – one on every page – the intertwined and disjointed threads made it hard for me to get into it or care about what’s going on The musical references – one every two or so sentences – were w

  6. says:

    I am not even going to pretend the premise isn’t crazy Twenty years after they fell the Twin Towers reappear in South Dakota They are as they were before 911except they seem to be singing and they are also completely devoid of people save one Jesse Garon Presley the twin brother of Elvis who in our reality died at birth I KNOW RIGHT? It’s bonkers But than just a bananapants premise it’s a gorgeous novel o

  7. says:

    Boy I didn't like this book The firsthalf I'd say it was a strong 3 stars towers mystery brosis driving toward it their story was really compelling Then at approximately the halfway point the bookdevolved? It became of seri

  8. says:

    Steve Erickson's Shadowbahn is deliciously out there You won't read anything else like it this year From its startling premise to its beautiful writing it's a truly engaging read It's thought provoking and strange and a wild ride I thought it was great Shadowbahn is set in 2021 Twenty years after 911 the Twin T

  9. says:

    There's music coming out of me that's not mine There's singing in my head that's not meThis was my first exposure to Steve Erickson astonishing given that the author has nine previous novels and has won both a Guggenheim Fellowship

  10. says:

    So what to make of Steve Erickson’s Shadowbahn It’s already been described as the first post Trump novel which is a tad ironic given the President – not named – in Erickson’s near future the book is set in 2021 is female and it’s under this female President look we know it’s Hillary that America f

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