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