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Author: William Dickerson
Kurt Donald Cobain was the lead singer of the group called Nirvana. Musician, artist and guitarist ob the grunge band Nirvana establishing it in 1975 in Seattle. His first album Bleach on the record label called Sub Pop was in 1989. No Alternative, the novel by William Dickerson is a memorial to his music, the time period and a reminder of his untimely suicide. The author begins this unique novel with a first chapter related in narrative form of the definition of suicide and its impact and meaning. A strong and powerful beginning ending with the obituary for Cobain. Doing some research before getting into the novel I learned more about Cobain and his life. He was frustrated, not always at ease in many situations and the public did at times not understand his artistic vision. Cobain, although a great musician was into heroin, depressed and became ill. Some artists cannot handle instant success or fame and that creates more pressure on them both personally and professionally. It is now 18 years since his death and this novel is a tribute to his memory and his music.
Thomas Harrison revered Kurt Cobain and went into a slump and depression after his death. Thomas left his drums and his music and sat in the corner of his garage and thought that his own goals and desires were a mere shell of Cobain’s. But, something happens and he decides to take a different turn, buy things for his drums, a guitar and enlists his friend Connor and together they venture to create their own alternative band. Attending Fordham Prep the author takes the reader inside the halls, the grounds and allows us to meet the students too. As Thomas is walking with a friend he tells him about his idea to form this band. Thomas is into drugs and Jeremy is his supplier as we learn when the conversation changes from the band to cold cash.
The time period is the nineties and the music, politics and the world was changing and kids were different back them Some formed groups and others like Thomas were loners at times and his choice of friends not exactly what his parents would have prescribed in this clinical world for him. Thomas wanted to start his own band with its own sound. Music is special and this time period of decade was unique and the music and sounds connected people through the words in the sound and the uniqueness of the artist playing. Thomas and his friends have a roughness about them yet in school Thomas puts on a whole other persona in order to please his teachers and say the right things. He even seems at times to be able to manipulate his parents and you wonder just how fooled they are by his demeanor and whether they even realize just what he is into. Imagine listening and really hearing the words to many of the songs written and knowing that some songs were really warnings to what an artist might do or what was to come. Each of Cobain’s songs had an undertone that should have led listeners and his producers to realize the underlying theme was suicide. Would Thomas follow in that direction with his band and his songs?
His sister Bridget is entirely different but not in a positive way. Dark, moody, depressed and on tons of meds for her many different ailments, she is a talented artist who is compulsive about drawing, sketching and creating her pictures that any psychiatrist might think was a cue for more testing or worse. The teens portrayed in this novel are no different than many you might have met growing up. Free thinkers, rebellious and thinking they know what’s best, drugs, liquor and hard rock music the end result we hope won’t be the same as the lead singer of Nirvana.
The author describes in greater detail Bridget’s appearance, her mannerisms and her dark personality. Her room appears to be a kaleidoscope of stars and her own breathing terrifying to her. Remembering an incident where protestors were front and center at their home lets the reader know more about Bridget, her blasé attitude and Thomas’s lack of fierceness when things become embarrassing. Reenter the garage and hear Thomas and his two friends at work creating their own grunge band and sound. With no peace in sight his parents take off on their own and Bridget stays behind at peace in her own world. As the boys experiment with their sound Bridget experiments with liquor. Taping her thoughts and always feeling not good enough about herself, she wonders if she will ever be able to say what she’s thinking and be heard.
As the story continues we learn more about both Thomas and Bridget and begin wonder where their parents are and just how aware of them they are. Typical teens to a point but shouldn’t someone be there to monitor Bridget and all the meds being handed out to her so freely. The doctor’s visit is frightening to say the least, her reaction stark and her next move cold. Thomas during her visit is creating what he feels is music, his sound and putting his own slant or words to songs most likely other kids would want to hear. Making their own statement and following in the path of Nirvana at least in music and Bridget seems to be following his other path.
Into the mix is his father’s decision to allow a woman to go free and as a result she kills her entire family. Just what happens is not unusual and the protestors storm outside the courtroom and now he has to deal with the end result of his decision.
The music keeps going and the boys play for a crowd. As the story keeps moving the music gets louder and the band plays for many crowds and the end result different each time. Bridget is bold and when she stands in front of an audience and sings her bizarre song during an open mike the reaction is strange except for one kid that seems to take to her. Bridget and now her new friend Stewart seem to have an affinity for each other both a series of contradictions in their own way and yet the same hoping to find themselves somewhere in this world. But, a dark cloud hangs over their family as death threats are leveled against their father for a decision that he made costing many lives. One family that lives together yet so far apart. Added into the mix is a young girl named Jackie who befriends Tom and her odd feelings about her family too?
This family is very disjointed and each member has his/her own aspirations, hopes and fears. As Thomas tries to reconcile what is happening with his father his sister loses control sending her parents to make a harsh decision. Bridget feels she is living in her mother’s shadow and cannot compete with her artistic ability. Maureen, her mother forgoes her career not wanting her daughter to feel she is competing with her. Throughout the novel the author does something quite unique. As the character commits to an action, or feeling the author relates the reasons or back-story behind these actions. Relating the mother’s hopes for a career in art and how she was great at one type of portrait but not another. Thomas’s hopes to create a band, his father who seems aloof to the realities around him and one young girl who is just plain angry with a doctor who has no clue as to what he is doing and whose message is Take These Pills and all will be right with your world. Questioned by her parents he resolves them to the fact the medication is her only hope.
A unique sound that they develop and they call their band the Latterday Saints. Their final result: you need to read for yourself.
If you have ever tried to connect all of the squares on a Rubix Cube you would know that it is not that easy to get all of the same colors together and complete the four sides. Each of the characters in Thomas’s family seems to have trouble connecting their own lives with each of the squares that would delineate their side of the square. Added to the Jackie, Elias, Jeremy and Alex each have stories of their own and their own squares to complete. A taping of a song that they hope will bring them over the top. One young girl who just wants to fit in. When Thomas sees the words No Alternative in red lipstick on the mirror of his bathroom what really happened and who commits the ultimate sin?
No Alternative: just what does that mean? No choice, have to do it, faced with one decision and no other way out. Find out what the ending is for this family. Learn what happens to Thomas and hear his voice speaking to you the reader in the final chapters as the colors of the squares start to come together and one girl has to decide where her life will go and others remember Kurt, John Lennon and many more whose mark and memories will always be with us. A story that will give the reader much pause for thought and many different reactions as teens might learn some very important lessons in life and understand that facing who you are is what you need to do. Bridget hid behind her persona. Find out the rest when you read No Alternative by William Dickerson. Everyone should!
Fran Lewis: reviewer
Let's give this book: FIVE NEW SONGS FOR THE LATTERDAY SAINTS!