William Dickerson's haunting debut novel "No Alternative" takes place in and around Yonkers, New York shortly after Kurt Cobain shot himself in 1994.William Dickerson's haunting debut novel "No Alternative" takes place in and around Yonkers, New York shortly after Kurt Cobain shot himself in 1994. Though it isn't necessarily spelled out in the early part of the narrative, a highly insightful and daring introduction indicates that suicide will play a central part in the story and the themes driving it. And if taking your own life is something you ever considered, even if only as a fleeting thought, “No Alternative” will blow you away. Howevers, you don't need a troubled past to enjoy it; this deeply moving story is for anyone who can appreciate a great novel.
It starts with the sharp and nuanced portrayal of the characters, the core of which comprise a single nuclear family. Thomas Harrison is, as Dickerson puts it, "the favorite, the only son. And sick of all that." He's also a drummer who jams in a garage band when his creative impulse is not crippled by sadness over the recent death of Kurt Cobain. Bridget is his preppy younger sister who is "trouble, troubling and troubled." She's also an artist who sketches fruit and listens to loud rap music because her brother, her family and her friends all hate it. William is their father that managed to become a State Supreme Court Justice despite a fascinating backstory that includes military service as a Green Beret in Viet Nam and a failed attempt to smuggle home an M60 machine gun for posterity. Maureen is his wife and their mother, a sarcastic hippie version of Martha Stewart with her own colorful past. Aside from the Harrison clan are a number of interesting and funny characters that Dickerson fleshes out so well in the course of the story along with his vivid portrayal of the time and place--New York in the early 1990s.
Along with perfectly capturing the anxiety and alienation of life as a teenager for some, Dickerson also manages to provide a real education about the music scene at that time, which drives the narrative like another powerful character. And he does it without being didactic thanks to a deep passion for the music itself found in both his characters and the narration. He weaves this passion in and out of a complex yet cohesive plot with shifting perspectives that are written seamlessly. In the end, as the title suggests, the conclusion should be obvious yet the story is still surprising and particularly effective. This is the result of a deft narrative shift toward the end of the book which comes from an original and very moving place.
Written for music fans as well as lovers of truly excellent literary fiction, "No Alternative" is one book not to be missed....more