All Our Pretty Songs – Sarah McCarry
Set against the lush, magical backdrop of the Pacific Northwest, two inseparable best friends who have grown up like sisters—the charismatic, mercurial, and beautiful Aurora and the devoted, soulful, watchful narrator—find their bond challenged for the first time ever when a mysterious and gifted musician named Jack comes between them. Suddenly, each girl must decide what matters most: friendship, or love. What both girls don’t know is that the stakes are even higher than either of them could have imagined. They’re not the only ones who have noticed Jack’s gift; his music has awakened an ancient evil—and a world both above and below which may not be mythical at all. The real and the mystical; the romantic and the heartbreaking all begin to swirl together, carrying the two on journey that is both enthralling and terrifying.
And it’s up to the narrator to protect the people she loves—if she can.
I’ve wanted to read this book for a while and I finally got around to picking it up. The eye-catching cover, the praise quote on the front comparing it to Neil Gaiman and Francesca Lia Block, the other praise quote that referred to it as a “punk-rock remix of the myth of Orpheus”…all those things appeal to me.
Let me start off by saying that comparing Sarah McCarry’s writing to a combination of Neil Gaiman and Francesca Lia Block is PERFECT. I read Block’s Weetzie Bat books a few years ago so I don’t remember the details very well, but as a Neil Gaiman fan, I can confirm that McCarry has mastered the sort of lyrical prose that can be half “this is gorgeous” and half “what the heck is going on?”.
It’s easy to fall in love with the words. Evocative descriptions and frank discussions of sex, drugs, and rock & roll abound, with our unnamed narrator lavishing poetry over her beautiful sister-friend Aurora and her boyfriend Jack.
All the best artists are selfish. .You can’t be good unless you care about the work more than you care about anything else.
I might not have necessarily picked it up if I hadn’t read a review that pointed it out, but the story takes place in the mid-1990’s, with the grunge/punk subcultures playing a huge role in the setting. As a result, it’s easy to draw comparisons between Aurora and Frances Bean Cobain (who I’m guessing was the inspiration for Aurora), but you don’t have to be a Nirvana fan to understand how messed up these girls’ lives become after Aurora’s father dies.
If this were the kind of story I want to be in, I’d flip back to the pages where all the words made sense and the ending wasn’t written yet.
It takes a while for the mythology to kick in. Most of the first half of the book is dedicated to day-to-day descriptions of Aurora and the narrator and how their relationship becomes more complex once the musician Jack enters the scene. At the same time that the narrator starts dating Jack, Aurora finds herself enthralled by a mysterious man named Minos. At that point, the book shifts into mythology and a world that is only hinted at before it blows up in the narrator’s unsuspecting face. I liked the way the mythology was built in, but I was hoping it would happen sooner or in a more obvious way.
I’m still not sure how to rate the book. In terms of prose and concept, it’s a solid four, but the meandering plot in the first three quarters left me wishing it would hurry up.