Novel’s trial based in the heart of grunge

Arts & Entertainment : Monday, May 01, 2000

Novel’s trial based in the heart of grunge 

By Claire Dederer
Special to The Seattle Times

The Web site for Mark Lindquist’s new novel, “Never Mind Nirvana,” features a photograph of girls from a Nathan Hale High School cheerleading squad. They form a pyramid, feathered hair falling around their teenage faces. Asked about the photo’s vintage, Lindquist says, “Circa late 1970s, about the same time as Elvis Costello’s first album.”

The Nathan Hale squad never appears in Lindquist’s new book, but the girls still seem right at home on the Web site: in Lindquist’s world, sex and the past and music are all jumbled into a yard sale of nostalgia.

“Never Mind Nirvana” (Villard, $21.95) chronicles Pete, a county prosecutor trying a case that galvanizes the local music community: a young woman has accused a well-known drummer of date rape.

Pete, meanwhile, trades on his faded glory as singer for the band Morph to get laid by a series of young women. Pushing 40 and trying to handle his mounting depression, he decides to get married. The question is to whom, and it’s a question that occupies many evenings of drinking and going-nowhere (though hot, hot, hot) sex.

Pete is that guy we all know, who needs to lose something before he can actually want it. So of course, when Ms. Right finally appears, he jeopardizes the relationship. Meanwhile, his case is coming to trial with a clutch of hooting, jeering scenesters clogging the gallery. All in all, events conspire to suggest that being the coolest may no longer mean being the happiest.

Lindquist asks me to meet him at I-Spy, a club on Fifth Avenue. Eighties Night starts at 10 p.m. and he doesn’t want to miss it.

We convene at the restaurant on the top floor. The unadorned space is throbbing with ambient dance music, or whatever the kids are calling it these days. Though Lindquist is in his late ’30s, he seems comfortable enough. In his blue blazer and white shirt, with his youthful good looks, he appears to be just what he is: a one-time Brat Pack writer, 15 years later. (His first novel, 1987’s “Sad Movies,” has been compared to Bret Easton Ellis’ “Less than Zero”.) Rob Lowe would play him in the movie, maybe with a tasteful bleach job.

Lindquist, a deputy prosecutor in the Pierce County Special Assault Unit, insists that his novel is not “as autobiographical as people think. On the other hand, I’m not very imaginative. I have to know and live what I’m writing about. And if it’s not my life, it’s the lives of people close to me, who are willing to get drunk with me and tell me their stories.”

Some of the people close to Lindquist appear, named and tagged, in “Never Mind Nirvana.” They include Kurt Bloch and Kim Warnick of the long-time punk band The Fastbacks, along with drummer Mike Musburger and Harvey Danger singer Sean Nelson.

While the book features real survivors of the grunge years, Lindquist says it’s not necessarily “a roman a clef in the strict sense of the word. The game behind a roman a clef is to figure out who’s who, and I used people’s real names. There are very few characters in this book based on real people, besides the ones who appear under their own names. Though the fact of the matter is that people are going to think it’s a roman a clef whether I say it is or not.”

As we chat, the Monorail trundles by, reminding me of a “Risky Business”-esque sex scene aboard the Seattle icon in Lindquist’s book. One of the pleasures of “Never Mind Nirvana” is its rightness in local details: Lindquist may be concerned with sexual mechanics, but he also has bothered with more mundane matters such as where, in fact, the Monorail goes.

Lindquist, a Seattle native and Nathan Hale graduate, returned home in the early ’90s after a decade or so in L.A. (he frequently reviews fiction for The Seattle Times). When asked about Seattle’s recent flush of success, he answers, “I grew up here. It’s hard for me to judge Seattle’s success, because I judge it as a homeboy . . . I think I love Seattle despite its success, not because of it. This town had a weird kind of suburban bohemia and it’s lost that.

“I’m a nostalgic person,” he confesses. “At least with Seattle, it’s well-justified nostalgia. It’s not just imagined changes for the worse, it’s genuine changes for the worse.”

Then again, Lindquist believes that the musical scene he chronicles in “Never Mind Nirvana” “was good for the city. When we grew up here, people who wanted to be writers, musicians, filmmakers moved to L.A. or New York. I think one of the good things about Seattle now is that it’s become a place creative people come to, as opposed to a place they abandon.”

Asked if the rock-‘n’-roll rebel ethic makes for tension with being a prosecutor, Lindquist says that it’s the writer in him that makes a good prosecutor. After all, he came to the law after a decade as a working writer.

“At first, I just knew I wanted to be a trial lawyer,” he says. “I wanted to be in the courtroom doing criminal law because I figured that’s where the stories were. It’s the prosecutors who get to stand up and tell true stories.”

Lindquist has absorbed the prosecutorial point of view. “Writers are interested in getting at the truth of things. I think it would be very difficult, if you’re interested in the truth, to be a public defender,” he contends.

“That sounds harsh, but defense attorneys are more interested, by necessity, in defending abstract concepts. You’re defending the abstract concept of reasonable doubt, you’re defending the concept of the Constitution, which is important and I respect, but you’re not telling true stories, usually.”

Lindquist’s penchant for the truth has paid off, for his novel gives us a Seattle we can recognize.