A young woman’s journey to find herself and create the perfect album
Paige is a rock star. The world just doesn’t know it yet. With a name like Paige Plant, how could she be anything but the future frontwoman of the next Led Zeppelin? She’s got the charisma, the drive, and, of course, the mega-musical skills. All she needs is to make her debut album, one that will change the world, inspire revolutions—and make her galactically famous along the way.
When John Bustin, a rich, reclusive, former semi-famous singer/songwriter offers to record Paige’s album for free, it feels like destiny, like the next step on her way to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, like some strange attractor is pulling her in. Guitar in hand, Paige sets off to John’s recording compound, ready to unfold her future.
But the ever-elusive John, with his mysterious history, and Paige, a big dreamer but naïve about her footing in life, clash as much as they coalesce. Before they can change the world through Paige’s music, the improbable duo must learn to work together, and in the process, discover their authenticity.
One part coming-of-age story and retrospective, one part rock and roll epic, The Big Wide Calm focuses a lens on human nature and the complexities of love through the eyes of young and old on the journey of creating the perfect album.
Where has this author been all my life?
I feel like The Big Wide Calm was written just for me. It's silly, I know, and I see that several other people are posting similar comments, so I guess I will just take it as more evidence that my other opinion about this book is correct: This is a very good novel.
Paige is a wonderful character, neatly drawn in sharp strokes, and then filled in with a surprising amount of depth. Like one layer beneath another, without the book ever becoming pretentious or dull. That's a hard thing for an author to do, to relate depth without losing levity.
There's lots of just pure entertainment in this book. The way the musicians are portrayed, the little asides that Paige thinks to herself about her sex life, about her childhood, about her friends. It all rings very true. Generally I am of the opinion that it shouldn't matter if a writer is a man or a woman, black, white or green with polka dots. The value of a book lies purely between its pages (Paiges? heh). But I think Rich Marcello deserves at least an extra half-star for writing so authentically from the point of view of a young woman. It never feels forced, and it's often quite charming and even trenchant.
I say that I feel like it was written for me because of the relationship between Paige and John Bustin. When I was still in college I was getting my writing and painting "career" (such as it is) going, and working in a coffee shop full time. There were a few older people working there (older meaning like early 30's, which seemed old to me at the time). They always wanted to listen to Jonathan Richman and listening to Richman's sort of "storyteller/jokester" way of singing songs made me start to feel connected to him in a daughter/father kind of way, and yet he seemed attractive to me. It was a strange dynamic.
Anyway, back to the book, the dynamic between Bustin and Paige, and the way she ponders her relationships to men in general and to her art, specifically, speaks truth straight to my own heart. It's not so much that Paige has the "answers." It's that she faces the same questions and inner monologues that I find myself thinking. Paige's career is a "real" one (eventually, kinda, no spoilers), and that's different from me. But that's the thing, even though the main plot is the arc of her career — signing to the label, writing songs, recording, etc — what's really relevant is this young woman's relationship to the people around her and her own somewhat conflicted status as artist.
One more personal note, if it's not too revealing. I loved the various details of Paige's sex life. Don't worry, it's not graphic or maudlin or cheap at all. But it is humorous, and it is true to life. It's the sort of "specific-universal" descriptions that make it easy to relate to. I mean to say that the details are unique to Paige and yet the emotions and wry humor they evoke feel exactly like feelings from real life.
Quote: "I did stir things up with Z though. When he came to visit me this weekend, I asked him to stop and buy four long silk scarves, you know, the kind older, well-dressed women wear all the time. Until last Firday night, it seemed like a waste to put perfectly good arms and legs out of commission even for a bit. But that night tying Z up worked. I even put my swim goggles on for added strangeness. There's an image."
In that little humorous image, you get a rather risqué sexual image, and yet it is subtle and not crude. You learn another little side of the heroine, her ability to do such things to her lover, and then it ends with those swim goggles "for added strangeness." I laughed out loud when I read that, and the people on the bus looked at me funny. This book is full of such jaunty and entertaining, subtle little sentences and descriptions.
But it would do a disservice to focus only on Paige just because I identified with her so strongly. Because there's another "star" in this novel, and that's John Bustin. He, too, immediately comes to life with a few broad descriptive brushstrokes from Marcello, and yet each scene and bit of dialogue, especially as he starts to really open up to Paige's influence on him, begins to adds layers of depth to him. He's a bit of a tragic figure, and yet he's humorous, loving, and in his own strange way, kind of dead sexy.
For anyone who is on the fence about reading a "rock novel," I'd just say, first of all, it's awesome. Second of all, if you have any love of music at all, you'll enjoy the parts about the singer-songwriter process. And third of all, it's a bit lazy to call this a "rock novel" at all. It's a "human novel" and the humans involved happen to be musicians. The actual details about the writing, singing, recording, etc. process are pretty engrossing to me (and I'm not a musician), but I hope it doesn't insult Mr. Marcello to say that, deep down, I feel like this could have been about anybody who lives and creates with passion and a flair for the artistic... writers, musicians, painters... in fact Paige is a bit of a painter herself.
Sometimes I feel weird getting "inspired" by books, like I should be too old for that. All I can say is that this book inspired me, made me want to recommit to my own "inner rock star" and most of all made me wish I could meet Paige in real life. Hopefully Marcello will bring her back, or more characters just as lively, in the future. Loved this book and from what others say it sounds like I need to read his earlier work too.
All in all, a magical, complex book, with two amazing, memorable, relatable characters. Highly recommended!
Well written. Deep characters. Thought provoking and a wonderful read.
I really didn't know what to expect, but the synopsis sounded interesting so I thought I'd go for it. I enjoyed this book so much more than I expected to.
This was a unique book with great characters. Life from the point of view of a young 20-something takes me back to the naivety of myself as a young woman. Career, following your dreams, love, wanting to change the world... all the things important as you're making your mark on the world. Paige was a great character who you will love. A very creative young woman who knows what she wants, enjoys a few surprises, learns about hard work and a thing or two about love.
The "artsy" aspect was such a great addition, something you don't see often. Anyone who loves art of any kind will appreciate Paige's love of music and will understand how one's life revolves around their creativity. Paige was truly an inspiration, reading The Big Wide Calm made me feel excited and ready to start new projects of my own. There's something special about Paige's enthusiasm.
The Big Wide Calm was an excellent book that was a fun, exciting read, that left me inspired.