Lynne Perednia's Reviews > Nashville Chrome

Nashville Chrome by Rick Bass
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Nov 28, 2010

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Rick Bass has written glorious, thick, rich and deep stories and nonfiction about the West, as well as The Diezmo, a slim novel about a band of would-be militia conquerors of Mexico sent by Sam Houston on a mission that goes horribly wrong. So it was a surprise that he went to the deep South and to music for his latest novel, Nashville Chrome (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010). It's a fictionalized account of the Browns, a sibling trio who created remarkable harmonies that pioneered American music, and their relationships with everyone from Elvis and, in passing, Johnny Cash, to Chet Atkins and Jim Reeves.

The writing about music and harsh survival is beautiful. So are his depictions of family relationships, as complicated as any layered harmonies created by the siblings in their music. But, as with all fiction based on real people, there are times it's highly uncomfortable to read and wondering what's real and what was manufactured to make a point with the storyline takes over being led by the narrative itself. Bass thanks Maxine, Jim Ed and Bonnie, the three Brown siblings, still alive, in his acknowledgements, adding to the uncomfortable factor. Oldest sibling Maxine, the magical one who is left all alone, makes for a sad central figure but doesn't have center stage often. Many of the big events in their lives happen offstage or in such oblique terms after tons of foreshadowing that those who read propelled by plot alone will be disappointed.

Bass uses the story of the Browns to write about how people connect, either in harmony or not. He writes about people who take, such as Elvis and a very young filmmaker at the end of the novel, and even Maxine, and those who give, such as the Browns' mother Birdie and always-happy sister Bonnie, and even Maxine. There is meditating on greatness and the hunger for it, and "the heartlessness of ambition" as Maxine realizes when old even while still craving recognition.

Life is a search for harmony and most of life is a metaphor in the novel. A lot of passages are ending up in my chapbook.

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