If Wener’s name seems familiar other than as a novelist, it’s probably because she led the 90’s britpop outfit Sleeper. I’m generally skeptical of songwriter-to-prose-slinger transitions — the skillsets involved have little overlap, it seems to me. But Wener’s songs often had such a strong narrative sense that they were almost short-story like, and my curiosity was immediately piqued when I learned she was writing books.
Goodnight Steve McQueen is the story, mostly, of a unsuccessful career musician whose girlfriend issues an ultimatum: make something of the band in a few month’s time, give it up … or else.
The book’s overall plot, wit, rocky-relationship-focus, and exuberant Britishness probably make comparisons to Nick Hornby inevitable, and The Times (London) trumpeted “If you liked High Fidelity, you’ll love Goodnight Steve McQueen,” in a pull-quote on the galley I read. I’d be more inclined to say, “If you liked High Fidelity, you might like Goodnight Steve McQueen, too,” but I think it’s a more useful reference than most book-jacket blurbs. Wener is less resolutely, “put away childish things,” than Hornby, and her book may have less thematic heft. Otherwise she stands up well to the comparison. Her relationship analysis struck me as more nuanced, and she’s quite possibly funnier than Hornby — I have the sense that some gags sailed right over my yank head, but this was still a multiple guffaw out-loud book (I was also moved to share paragraphs at a time with my wonderful girlfriend). Perversely, I also found Wener’s first-person narrator more credible as a male human being than the typical Hornby protagonist. A few of the turns of the band’s so-called career seemed a bit improbable, but then, it’s a tautology that successful — or even just long-lived — bands are improbable.
As a longtime unsuccessful* musician myself, I must also note that, for someone who once had a major label deal and a respectable string of (UK) charting singles, Wener’s depiction of the small-club/empty-room, stinky-rehearsal-space slog is almost painfully acute.
*(By society’s standards, if not mine)
Needs More Demons? Nah.