Ever since I read Daisy Jones and the Six (review here), I’ve been looking for similar books. One of the books I found was The Final Revival of Opal and Nev (review here) and now Songs in Ursa Major (Amazon). I received an ARC from NetGalley and Knopf Publishing Group in exchange for an honest review:
From the publisher: “The year is 1969, and the Bayleen Island Folk Fest is abuzz with one name: Jesse Reid. Tall and soft-spoken, with eyes blue as stone-washed denim, Jesse Reid’s intricate guitar riffs and supple baritone are poised to tip from fame to legend with this one headlining performance. That is, until his motorcycle crashes on the way to the show.
Jane Quinn is a Bayleen Island local whose music flows as naturally as her long blond hair. When she and her bandmates are asked to play in Jesse Reid’s place at the festival, it almost doesn’t seem real. But Jane plants her bare feet on the Main Stage and delivers the performance of a lifetime, stopping Jesse’s disappointed fans in their tracks: A star is born.
Jesse stays on the island to recover from his near-fatal accident and he strikes up a friendship with Jane, coaching her through the production of her first record. As Jane contends with the music industry’s sexism, Jesse becomes her advocate, and what starts as a shared calling soon becomes a passionate love affair. On tour with Jesse, Jane is so captivated by the giant stadiums, the late nights, the wild parties, and the media attention, that she is blind-sided when she stumbles on the dark secret beneath Jesse’s music. With nowhere to turn, Jane must reckon with the shadows of her own past; what follows is the birth of one of most iconic albums of all time.”
I have to say that initially, this book drew me in and captivated me. This book is loosely based on the relationship between real-life singer/songwriters James Taylor and Joni Mitchell, but I don’t know enough about it to tell you what’s real and what is the author’s imagination. The early 1970’s music scene on Martha’s Vineyard was well-drawn, but the character development was lacking at times. Jane’s family dynamic isn’t explained well at all and I wondered for a long time who was the mom, the aunt, the Grandma and the cousin. One minute Jane and The Breakers takes the stage, the next they’re on the road with Jesse Reid as an opening act. And just as quickly, Jesse and Jane hook up without much explanation. The sex scenes seemed like they were thrown in. I believe the chance was wasted to make me really invested in these characters.
About halfway through the book is when the plot lost me. Jane learned quickly about the pitfalls of being a woman in the early 1970’s and the misogyny of the music business at that time, and then she just goes off the rails. I found myself not caring about Jane as she doesn’t seem to care much about herself, either. I won’t rehash the plot, there are enough reviews out there that do that, but her choices left me scratching my head a lot. The story seemed to meander a bit before getting back on track. And the big reveal of Jane’s secret wasn’t that big of a deal to me.
When Jane returns to her life on the island, the story picked up for me again. The resolution of Jane’s story is not a surprise at all, based on how the book went. Ultimately, this is a coming-of-age story involving growth as a human being and as an artist, and taking a chance on having your heart broken. It also touches on mental illness and illegal drug use that was prevalent in some circles in the early 1970’s. This book was good, but I feel like it could have been so much more.
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