'This is Not a Lie' by S.C. Farrow is the story of Joel Reed, guitarist of The Blackhearts, a fictional band sunken into the backdrop of the Melbourne music scene during the early 80s. An urgent search for a new singer, finds them auditioning Harry Engel.. a relative unknown who's recently moved into the area.. with a powerful voice and even more powerful presence.
Surrounded by people who want to see him succeed, Joel is still struggling. He's a high-functioning heroin addict with a secret. Living a carefully constructed lie, he's lonely and self-destructive, and desperately trying not to be discovered.. fearful that his truth would be a quick end to any hopes of making it big.. in a place and time where intolerance is prevalent.
If I'm being completely honest.. the cover of this book drew me first. There's sort of a pretty Peter Steele thing going on there.. with the softly brooding expression. You have to understand.. before I read the synopsis.. I saw someone on the cover I understood. Someone who felt familiar to me.
For several years, starting in high school, I worked professionally in the music industry. I did everything at one time or another. I managed bands, did PR, oversaw venue bookings, pitched to labels, handled marketing both internally and in the field, and even worked for a label directly. You could say I was thoroughly entrenched in the business and the lifestyle.. and truth be told.. sometimes I still miss it. But I don't miss the loss.
There's a stereotype, of course.. that creatives are often more risk prone.. and I find that to be true. Musicians.. especially. There's definitely a group within the overall mix who are there trying to fill an emptiness caused by something growing up. Not enough attention in the home, too much of the wrong kind of attention, love and loss at early ages of their own, self-loathing, feelings of being too different and too alone.. all fuel this bright burning need to be adored.
Joel and Harry are like that. Yet, at the same time.. in a way.. they're complete opposites. They both feel things entirely too acutely, but Joel hides those feelings away.. numbing himself with smack so he can ignore them, while Harry struggles through, getting back to a free-spirited, generally happy nature as soon as he's able.
Harry is magnetic even within printed pages, but I find myself unable to be objective enough to decide if that's because he feels like a friend I lost, or because of the way he's written. I will say, of all the characters in the book, he's the most well-developed. I can visualize him.. and to a degree, I can visualize Joel.. but not as well.
Emotionally, this book could have been really difficult to read, but there's a lot more telling than showing about how things happen. I really think it's a story that could have benefitted from third person over first, because hearing only Joel's thoughts just waters down some of what he's going through.. and really, that's the meaty part of the story. This character is dealing with some very heavy things.
Normally, I'd expect to feel a closer connection to someone by seeing through their eyes, but that's just not the case here. I felt closer to Harry because of the way Joel perceived him.. and I think the same could have been true of both of them, if it were just narrated differently.
Unexpectedly, but largely due to the aforementioned issue, I was very slow to warm to the book as I read. It was interesting, but moderately so, and I had no trouble walking away from it periodically. Eventually it made me cry, but even that could have been much more impactful.
I do think Farrow has a lot of potential and I'm curious to see what else she might publish. This particular story is a bit weak due to the fact she tends to overindulge in some unnecessary descriptions and then come in swinging low for what should be heavy hitting emotions. There's a good framework here, she just needs to prioritize a bit better and expand on her character and story development skills.
Still, if you're like me and have worked in the industry or if you tend to fall for broken musician types, you might want to give this book a chance. I'm glad I did.