Entertainment News: Sunday, August 15, 1999

“Not Ready for Prime Time” by Brent Askari

Reviewed by Mark Lindquist
Special to The Seattle Times

In his book “On Becoming a Novelist,” John Gardner, the writer and teacher who was a mentor to Raymond Carver among many others, had this advice for writers:

“One of the most common mistakes among young writers is the idea that a story gets its power from withheld information – that is, from the writer’s setting the reader up and then bushwhacking him.”

Bushwhacking is an unfortunate technique of playwright Brent Askari in his first novel. He ends chapters with sentences like, “And when I did find out the truth, it blew my mind.” This is especially unfortunate because his story does not need cheap tricks.

Justine Nichols, the narrator, a 22-year-old lead singer for an all-girl band, is a charming and engaging character. Abandoned by her parents and raised by an alcoholic aunt, she’s an intriguing study in dysfunction. Askari’s writing continually rings true in this territory.

Justine’s bandmates are drawn equally well: “Tara didn’t fit in with any of the high school crowds. Even the angst-ridden life-sucks-so-let’s-dress-in-black-and-worship-death crowd didn’t like her, because they thought she was a downer.”

I would have liked to spend more time with the band, but the story moves, as it must, to Justine’s confrontation with her mother, a TVstar Justine has never seen in the flesh. Their face-to-face comes in the hospital where the mother is staying after a suicide attempt. This scene, like most of the emotional high points, is handled with grace and wit.

Through the course of the story, Justine has two boyfriends who are her dysfunctional equals, but she is clearly not ready for love. By the end, having confronted her past and herself, she may be.


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