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Book Review: Power Ballads by Will Boast

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Did you ever yearn for life as a musician? Ecstatic fans, groupies falling all over themselves, roadies jumping and a fetching to serve your genius and record companies lining up to sign you to the deal of a life time?

Then read Power Ballads, because that isn’t how it goes. Will Boast, winner of the prestigious Iowa Short Fiction Award — bestowed on a first time author for short fiction by the Iowa Writers Workshop — has written a collection of stories that are powerful and moving and that explore the real life of a musician. From the moment you are bitten by the muse, to that moment you first play in public. From your first paying gig, to the ego of the other players that will complement your life.

The stories also explore the complications a musician’s life takes on with relationships, romance, his own ego, and priorities. The necessity of ‘selling out’ to pay the rent. It’s all here, from the hotel barroom gigs to the stadiums, the sound studios of legendary status to sleeping in your practice space. And underneath it all, like the steady thrum of a bass, is the muse, the ‘high,’ the addiction of your need to play music.

The stories read with a rhythm worthy of a great piece of music. The pace, collectively and individually, is that of a symphony. Thought-provoking, emotionally moving, bringing tears of loss and joyful laughs the next moment. The stories and the plot – all fiction must have a plot – seem to write themselves. They don’t seem contrived or made up, but pulled from the lives of real road-worn musicians. And the characters, ah the characters. I know these guys. I have shaken my head at some of them and punched out others. I have high-fived them on dive-bar stages, and bought them drinks at the Ramada Inn at 2 a.m. I’ve sabotaged their gear and sat in awe of what they could do with a piece of wood or brass.

Power Ballads is a keeper, so treat it well when you receive it. you’ll want to pull this one down from the shelf over and over again and revisit it from time to time.

Will Boast is an Englishman who grew up in Ireland and Wisconsin and, I have a feeling, knew some musicians. He has a wonderful eye for detail in his stories which have graced the pages of such publications as Best New American Voices 2009, Narrative, Glimmer Train, The Southern Review, The American Scholar, and Five Points and the way he writes he is fated to grace the pages of even more. Until 2010 he was a Stegner Fellow in fiction at Stanford University and by now he is back in England as the Charles Pick Fellow at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, not far from the cottage I lived in back in the ‘70s. Rumor has it that he is currently working on a novel and a memoir, so write down his name — you will want to remember it.

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About The Dirty Lowdown

I was born in Pomona, California at a very young age. I had a pretty normal childhood…or I was a pretty normal child hood if mom is telling the story. I was a paperboy and washed cars. I was a soda fountain jock-jerk and a manic mechanic but my first real job was as a labor organizer in a maternity ward. Then, because of the misjudgment of a judge I spent nearly 10 years in the service of our country mostly on KP duty. Our country sure turns out a lot of dirty dishes. I am a past master at pots and pans. They eventually recognized my real talent and let me wander around some very unfriendly places carrying a big radio that didn’t work. Along the way I took up the bass guitar, jotting down stories, electronic engineering and earned a degree in advanced criminal activities. I spent most of my adult life, if you can call it that, working in the I.T. industry, which I was particularly suited for since we worked in rooms with no windows. On and off I taught in colleges, universities and reform schools as a student teacher… I like smog, traffic, kinky people, car trouble, noisy neighbors, and crowded seedy bars where I have been known to quote Raymond Chandler as pickup lines. I have always been a voracious reader, everything from the classics, to popular fiction, history to science but I have a special place in my heart for crime fiction, especially hard-boiled detective fiction and noir. I write a book and music review blog for all genres at The Dirty Lowdown. And another dedicated to Crime Fiction and all things Noir called Crimeways. It’s named after the magazine that appeared in the Kenneth Fearing classic, The Big Clock. There I write scholarly reviews of the classic hard boiled, noir and crime fiction books from the 20's through today. Mostly I drool over the salacious pictures on the covers. I also write for Tecnorati/BlogCritics where i am part of a sinister cabal of superior writers.