Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Review: Broad Street by Christine Weiser


“I don’t think growing up has to be boring, “I said. “It’s just figuring out how to balance it all.”

[pg. 229]


Broad Street
by Christine Weiser

PS Books, 2008
Fiction; 231 pgs



I was nearly half way through this book when I turned to my husband who was reading in bed next to me and began to tell him all the reasons why the protagonist was frustrating me. She is repeatedly making dumb choices and not because she was stupid, but because she didn't have the confidence to stand up for herself. As I settled in to sleep, I let my mind wander, sifting through my thoughts about the book and the character, trying to decide if I wanted to continue on or give up. Hadn't I read a memoir recently called Loose Girl, whose author I was able to identify with even if our lifestyles and choices were so very different? Something happened while I slept. Some sort of shift, and so when I picked up Broad Street again the next morning I was less critical of Kit, and I realized I did want to know what happened next.

It was not that I did not like Kit. Kit is actually a very likable character. She is friendly, smart and very talented. She works in a job she tolerates because she has bills to pay, is now living on her own after having broken up with a cheating boyfriend, and is feeling even more like she's a disappointment to her family, especially compared to her successful sister who seems to do no wrong. Kit underestimates her own skills and talents. She lacks self-confidence. How many of us understand what that is like? I know I do.

When Kit meets Margo at a party one night, the two get to talking and form an instant bond. They both are quite familiar with the garage music scene in Philadelphia, their boyfriends being in bands. Margo comes across as confident and sure, and yet she is quite insecure on the inside. Her relationship is on rocky ground; much like Kit, she works a ho hum day job, and she feels a bit stuck where she is. She broaches the subject of starting a band with Kit when she discovers that Kit can play the bass guitar, and Kit agrees.

The two women are not experienced players by any means, but they have a willingness to learn and the talent to make it work for them. Finding a suitable drummer proves to be a difficult task. While they have willing candidates, finding the perfect fit is not so easy. Still, the women are able to get their band off the ground, booking shows and performing alongside other respected rock bands. Broad Street is on its way.

Even so, their path is not so easy. The rock scene in Philadelphia during the 1990's was male-dominated and the women often had to struggle harder to get where they wanted to go. They were seen as easy targets by those wanting to take advantage and not always taken so seriously. The competition was fierce, especially among other female bands like their own. Backstabbing and undermining each other’s success was not out of the question. At the same time, their being an all-girl rock band seemed to give them an edge that the men didn't have--they stood out because as a girl's band, they were not all too common.

Drugs, sex and rock-n-roll: Broad Street has it all. The author Christine Weiser has insider knowledge of the local rock band scene, having been in a band herself. She takes readers right into the heart of the garage band culture and does not miss a beat, offering a hard look at how competitive and difficult it can be for any band trying to make a name for itself. And yet, the experience can be very empowering as both Kit and Margo discover. It teaches them more about themselves and the world around them, giving them a confidence they both desperately need.

The second half of the book did get better for me. The focus of the book, while always on Kit, shifted toward the band and her other relationships more specifically and less on Kit and her sexual escapades and drug experimentation. For me, at least, this was when the book really took off. One big turning point in the novel for me was as Kit's relationship with her sister evolved. Kit has always felt that her sister was the favorite child, the one who could do no wrong. The more Kit comes into her own, the more she begins to realize that even her perfect sister is not quite so perfect after all.

There was one scene in particular that struck a chord with me, one I can't go into details about because it would be too much of a spoiler. What I can say, however, is that Kit runs into her boss in an unlikely place, and it comes to light that her boss is 35 years old. It hit me at that moment how much younger Kit and Margo were than I am, and why I might not so easily be able to relate to them. Even so, we are not all that different. I think many of us can relate to feeling stuck, wanting purpose and new direction in life, and to be more sure of ourselves.

I am not sure Broad Street is really my type of book, when all is said and done. I got something out of it in the end, but it took me a while to get there. I do think that Christine Weiser has a promising career ahead of her as an author, and from what I have heard of the book she currently is working on (a mystery), it sounds like it will be a good one. I think this was more a case of the book not matching the reader. The author is well worth checking out if you are drawn to these types of stories.

For another take on the book, stop by Peeking Between the Pages.

Challenge Commitment Fulfilled: ARC Challenge, New Authors Challenge, TBR Challenge

Miscellaneous: I often will read the discussion questions at the end of a book and while some I may ponder, more often I don’t bother to spend much time thinking up answers. Call me lazy if you want, but the truth is the questions don’t always seem relevant to my own reading of the book. In the case of Broad Street, however, I actually found the discussion questions quite useful and enlightening--enlightening in the sense that they brought up relevant points which helped me process what I had read and how I felt about the book and the characters. In a way, I think the discussion questions helped me appreciate the book more.

19 comments:

  1. Hmmm? I think we all have had our moments of insecurity, I have and a bad choice followed...I read you review and I do not think this book is for me. I raised my sons in Philly and have one who did start a band and plays for fun besides his job. But still I am not attracted to the character after reading your review and you write such good ones.
    Thanks for the great review

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  2. Congrats on completing the book! That is always hard when the beginning is slow or you just aren't invested in the characters quite yet (and aren't sure if you ever will be)! This sounds like an interesting book to read - especially after your review.

    I don't know if you are a movie fiend, but Broad Street reminded me of The Last of the Blonde Bombshells (my review) with Judi Dench. So an older version - both characters and time period - of Broad Street, maybe? And maybe more entertaining!

    cecilia

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  3. Probably just not my type of book, but I thoroughly enjoyed your review. I'm glad it turned out to hold something worthwhile for you!

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  4. The quote on your header can apply to the different aspects of our own personalities when reading.

    Like you, I don't often bother with the discussion questions anymore and for the same reason. However, I do skim them and occasionally find some that I find useful.

    :) Your comment, "The author is well worth checking out if you are drawn to these types of stories," reminds me of a comment by a former governor about the architecture of a new (and unattractive) building on a local campus. He said something to the effect that it was really nice if you like that kind of architecture.

    Think I'll pass on this one.

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  5. Although Kit frustrated me throughout this book I really enjoyed the story. There are many choices that Kit makes that I certainly wouldn't but that's part of the charm of a book for me. I get to live outside myself without taking any of the risks or being brave enough. I read this quite a while ago and Kit's story is still in my mind-I liked her as a character and enjoyed her development towards the end of the book. Great review as usual!

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  6. Yeah, we all have our frailties I guess. We doubt ourselves, we wonder if we are in the right profession, we wonder if we are doing our best. But depending on my mood, I have little patience with certain personalities. It is interesting that you slept on it, and changed your mood towards this one. That is good advice to take to heart, if I am getting perturbed!

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  7. I'm not sure this is the right book for me either. Thanks for the review.

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  8. I haven't read this yet...but its in the tbr pile. Thanks for another great review.

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  9. Great review. I like to read all kinds of stuff so I would think about reading this at some point, but can I just say thanks for sharing your honest thoughts??? I really like to hear what someone truly thought about a book and you always stay true to that...thanks Wendy!!!

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  10. I'm not sure if this is my kind of book, but I enjoyed reading your review, Wendy! :)

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  11. The premise has some appeal to me, but I have a feeling I'd lose patience with the characters. I might read it, but not any time soon...thanks for the review!

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  12. Sylvie - Thanks. I wonder how much of your son's experience would mirror the band scene described in this novel.

    Cecilia - Thank you! I am glad I kept reading.

    I haven't seen The Last of the Blonde Bombshells, but now you're review has me curious.

    Debi - Thank you, Debi. I am glad too!

    Jenclair - I thought so too when I read that quote. :-)

    Haha! Well, I didn't mean that particular statement quite that way, but I can see how it could come across that way.

    I am looking forward to reading more by the author, especially since she's trying her hand at mystery writing. It'll probably be more up my alley.

    Dar - I should probably link your review so everyone gets a positive impression of the book to balance out my own less than stellar opinion. I hate to turn anyone off completely because I think that others might like it more than I did.

    I just had a really hard time getting past Kit's decisions in the first half of the book. I generally do like stepping outside of my own experiences when I read, but with Kit, I found myself so annoyed with her during the first half of the book and it cast a shadow on my enjoyment of the book.

    Sandy - Yes, I think we can all relate to having self-doubts. Like you, my mood can influence my tolerance level for certain personality types. That could very well be what happened here.

    I've never slept on a book before (figuratively speaking--I have done so literally), and so this was a first. I'm not sure how well it would work if I tried it again. But you are right, sometimes sleeping on something gives us a chance to step back and gain a different or new perspective.

    Kathy - You're welcome. :-)

    Serena - I look forward to hearing what you think of it when you do get to it, Serena! Hopefully you will like it better than I did.

    Staci - Thanks, Staci. Writing a not so positive review doesn't come easy for me, but I do aim to be honest. It's only fair to you--and to me.

    Quite a few people have enjoyed this book and hopefully you will be one of them if you do read it.

    Melody - Thanks, Melody!

    Florinda - I think you captured part of my trouble with Kit--I lost patience with her.

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  13. You know everyone likes a book differently--that's what makes it so fun to read other's thoughts. For me Kit did frustrate me in the beginning but I could see her mind & attitude changing and it kept me reading and then being happy that she's made it that far. Does that make sense?

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  14. Dar - That is so true. Reading is a very personal experience. Like the quote in my blog header says. :-)

    I do know what you are saying about Kit. I think that's why I was able to keep reading ultimately. She did start to change. I think I just got too impatient for it to happen when she kept making the same mistakes over and over again, all the while knowing she was making them. I definitely like where she ended up though.

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  15. Glad you stuck it out; I chose not to. I was too frustrated by Kit and her perceptions of her situations to want to put up with the rest of the book. Of course, I've never had a boyfriend cheat on me. I've never learned an instrument (totally turned off by those plastic recorders in 4th grade). And I haven't been short of self-confidence since 9th grade. I thought I might've been more sympathetic with a third person narrator.

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  16. Jena - Kit's actions were frustrating, I agree. Particularly at the beginning of the book. I'm glad to know I wasn't the only one who had a problem with that.

    I can relate to her lack of self-confidence though, as I have bouts of that every now and then.

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  17. Glad this one got better for you. I'm curious about the scene you really liked but couldn't tell us about.

    --Anna
    Diary of an Eccentric

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  18. I've done that before or when I go to write my review of a book I realize that although I wasn't really in love with it at the time that I did actually like it alot more than I thought I did.

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  19. Anna - It was one of the highlights of the book--but boy did it make me feel old. LOL

    Jen - Or I discover I didn't like the book as much as I thought I did. Haha! That usually happens with the passage of time though. I am glad this one got better for me.

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