Book Review: Stone Arabia by Dana Spiotta - More2Read

Stone Arabia by Dana Spiotta


“Stone Arabia possesses the edged beauty and charged prose of Dana Spiotta’s earlier work, but in this novel about siblings, music, teen desire and adult decay, Spiotta reaches ever deeper, tracking her characters’ sweet, dangerous American dreaming with glorious

precision. Here is a wonderful novel by one of our major writers.”–Sam Lipsyte, author of

The Ask

“I read Stone Arabia avidly and with awe. The language of it, the whole Gnostic hipness of it is absolutely riveting. It comes together in the most artful, surprising, insistent, satisfying way. Dana Spiotta is a major, unnervingly intelligent writer.”—Joy Williams, author of The Quick and the Dead

“Stone Arabia is a rock n’ roll novel like no other. Where desire for legacy tangles with fantasy. And identity and memory are in and out of control. A loser’s game of conceit, deceit, passion, love and the raw mystery of superstar desire.”—Thurston Moore

“Added to the brilliant glitter of Ms. Spiotta’s earlier work – so reminiscent, at times, of early Don DeLillo and early Joan Didion – is something deeper and sadder: not just alienation, but a hard-won awareness of mortality and passing time… both a clever meditation on the feedback loop between life and art, and a moving portrait of a brother and sister, whose wild youth on the margins of the rock scene has given way to the disillusionments and vexations of middle age.”—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“Stone Arabia is a collage of discursive textures, a polyphonic meditation on epistemology… It is a smart, subtle, moving story about the complicated business of knowing the people you love.”—Matthew Sharpe, Bookforum

“The book maps a post-punk milieu where the sense of completeness punk offered… never goes away. Spiotta can capture whole lives in the most ordinary transaction, and make it cut like X’s ‘Los Angeles’ or the Avengers’ ‘Car Crash.’—Greil Marcus, The Believer

“Evocative, mysterious, incongruously poetic…gritty, intelligent, mordent, and deeply sad…Spiotta has created, in Stone Arabia, a work of visceral honesty and real beauty.”—The New York Times Book Review

“With a DeLillo-like ability to pinpoint the delusions of an era, the National Book Award-nominated Spiotta explores the inner workings of celebrity, family, and other modern-day mythologies.”–Vogue

“Dana Spiotta’s stunning, virtuoso novel Stone Arabia plays out the A and B sides of a sibling bond between a brother—now a reclusive middle-aged musician who, seeing his shot at rock superstardom burn out, obsesses over his scrap-books, a fantasy version of his career—and his idolizing younger sister and enabler, now a mom, who strives for family harmony.”—Vanity Fair

“There’s a fine tradition of pop-music novels, and Stone Arabia joins the genre’s upper echelons with this transfixing story… It’s as though Nabokov had written a rock novel.”—Entertainment Weekly

Book Description

Stone Arabia, Dana Spiotta’s moving and intrepid third novel, is about family, obsession, memory, and the urge to create—in isolation, at the margins of our winner-take-all culture.

In the sibling relationship, “there are no first impressions, no seductions, no getting to know each other,” says Denise Kranis. For her and her brother, Nik, now in their forties, no relationship is more significant. They grew up in Los Angeles in the late seventies and early eighties. Nik was always the artist, always wrote music, always had a band. Now he makes his art in private, obsessively documenting the work, but never testing it in the world. Denise remains Nik’s most passionate and acute audience, sometimes his only audience. She is also her family’s first defense against the world’s fragility. Friends die, their mother’s memory and mind unravel, and the news of global catastrophe and individual tragedy haunts Denise. When her daughter, Ada, decides to make a film about Nik, everyone’s vulnerabilities seem to escalate.

Dana Spiotta has established herself as a “singularly powerful and provocative writer” (The Boston Globe) whose work is fiercely original. Stone Arabia—riveting, unnerving, and strangely beautiful—reexamines what it means to be an artist and redefines the ties that bind.

My Review

Some really nice writing, the story flows well and touches many issues of the modern era.
The protagonist Denise rambles on life, the bubble around here brother Nik the music artist and her mother Ada who is slowly heading down the Dementia road.
The story includes real news headlines from timeline of 1978 to 2004 and the protagonist take on it and her heart felt view on matters. Lots of family stuff what could have been what’s liked and disliked.
This book takes me back to Freedom by Franzen, but Spiotta connections better with Denise’s plight with the world around her, philosophical, intelligent and witty. The book’s ending could be better but I think the writer knows better than me the plotting of her story. That brings on a thought can perfection lead to insanity if you don’t balance the scales in life.


“Written words demand the deep attention that spoken words just aren’t entitled to. Writers get to pull something solid out of our relentless, everyday production of verbal mucilage. A writer is a word salvager and scavenger and distiller.”

“I have discovered how much memory can dissolve under pressure. The more I try to hold on to my ability to remember, the more it seems to escape my grasp.
I find this terrifying. I have become alarmed at my inability to recall basic facts of the past, and I have worked to improve things. I have been studying various techniques and even tricks, and I should employ them. Memory, it seems, clings to things. Named things. Spaces. Senses.”

“I believe I know that photos have actually destroyed our memories. Every time we take a photograph, we forget to embed things in our minds, in our actual brain cells. The taking of the photograph gets us off the hook, in a way, from trying to remember. I’ll take a photo so I can remember this moment. But what you are actually doing is leaving it out of your brain’s jurisdiction and relying on Polaroid’s, Kodak paper, little disintegrating squares glued in albums.”

“When I think of my family, I think that our history really lives in our bodies. The mind distorts and fails, but the body endures until it doesn’t, and up until that moment it held it all. I knew that when she died, it would be her body I would remember, her physical presence, and to recall any part of her body her smell, her hair would make me weep and grieve for her.”

“The Beslan School broke her open, but what purpose did it serve? What was a person supposed to do with all of this feeling? Feeling nothing was subhuman, but feeling everything, like this, in a dark room in the middle of the night, by yourself, did no one any good. Certainly not Denise, who held her head and wept, and watched two hours of breaking, beating new coverage. Of children and blood and chaos. Each possibility, not feeling or feeling, each response was inadequate.
The worst part would come tomorrow, when they repeated these images over and over; or the day after, when the world out there would move to the next thing, the next terrifying and electrifying and stupefying thing. Are we supposed to forget? If not forget, then what?”

Reviewed by Lou Pendergrast on 28 July 2011

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