Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Taylor Jenkins Reid's Daisy Jones & The Six is a captivating, enthralling novel about 1970s rock 'n' roll, written by a talented author who has no idea how rock bands, collaborative songwriting, and music careers actually work. In short, it's a beautiful, ambitious rollercoaster of a novel that is maddening in its musical inaccuracies. Like a halfway-brilliant rock album that contains a variety of throwaway tracks (Fleetwood Mac's Mirage, anyone?), Daisy Jones & the Six is a hybrid of hell-raising highs and lackluster lows - a respectable attempt to grab the golden ring of literary greatness, even as it falls short of its aspirations.
In many ways, Daisy Jones & the Six is a love letter to classic rock, specifically to Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac. It's clear from reading this novel that Reid adores Stevie Nicks and company (perhaps to the point of obsessiveness), and the book oftentimes feels like Fleetwood Mac fan fiction. It's all here: egos, rivalries, jealousy, infidelity, smashed instruments, trashed hotel rooms, houseboats, unplanned pregnancies, and SNL afterparties. And, of course, sex and drugs. Soooooooo many drugs. Reid basically provides a pharmaceutical crash course for her readers, tempered with her earnest discussions of sobriety and sober living. It's not incidental that Rolling Stone called Fleetwood Mac "the lovingest, fightingest, druggingest band of the '70s." And Reid tries really hard to evoke that sentiment with Daisy Jones & the Six.
Like VH1's Behind the Music docu-series, Daisy Jones & the Six is structured in an oral history format: the story is told almost entirely by the members of the band, their families, rock critics, sound engineers, photographers, and the like. Daisy Jones is unapologetically modeled after Stevie Nicks; consequently, the Six's leader, Billy Dunne, serves as a Lindsey Buckingham avatar. Apart from these well-developed figureheads (and Billy's tortured wife, Camila), most of Reid's characters are two-dimensional caricatures of rock star excess; every tried-and-true rock star trope that you can imagine (from tourbus shenanigans to reluctant rehab) finds its way into this novel. The most cartoonish figure is the band's drummer, Warren - who is intended to provide comic relief, but undermines the artistry of Reid's novel by uttering predictable platitudes about rock stardom. When she shoots for the lowest common denominator, Reid reminds us that she still has a lot to learn about capturing authentic human experiences.
Despite these missteps, however, Taylor Jenkins Reid clearly understands the complexities of the human heart and the longings of imperfect, unfulfilled love. The aching conveyed by various characters (most notably Billy and Daisy, but also Camile, Graham, and Karen at other points in the novel) cuts to the quick. Though I haven't read any of Reid's other novels, I'm willing to bet that she's a master of star-crossed circumstances, a chronicler of love lost and almost-found. That being said, the "will-they-or-won't-they" nature of Billy and Daisy's relationship feels forced at times, as if the author hasn't earned the heartache that her readers are supposed to feel for these characters. Nevertheless, readers will salivate over these fictionalized superstar romances, eagerly plowing through the novel's various twists and turns - especially a third-act revelation that helps illuminate the "writing" of the book-within-a-book that comprises the core of Daisy Jones & the Six.
Fans of rock trivia will appreciate the subtle nods to real-life historical moments: the scene in which Daisy records in the vocal booth while wrapped in a blanket is taken almost line-for-line from Stevie Nicks's experience tracking "Gold Dust Woman" while battling a head cold. Likewise, the provocative photoshoot for the Aurora album cover is a callback to Linda Ronstadt's Hasten Down the Wind. It's in subtler moments like these that Reid works her true magic, illuminating the behind-the-scenes cogs of the rockstar machine (when she gets them right, of course). These rock 'n' roll Easter eggs can provide amusing fodder for rock obsessives (like yours truly), while endearing Reid to her readers.
The novel's conclusion, while bittersweet, offers just the right amount of hope in the darkness - a hint of "young stars" shining through the darkened sheets of despair and loss. In the end, Daisy Jones & the Six is a sprawling, sometimes-brilliant rock 'n' roll mockumentary, a breezy beachside read for fans of rock music and doomed romances. Just make sure that you have Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac playing in the background: that soundtrack will make all the difference for mildly invested readers. Alas, if This is Spinal Tap - a true rock 'n' roll mockumentary masterpiece - can "go to 11," it's a shame that Daisy Jones only goes to a Six.
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Mild-mannered librarian by day… and a mild-mannered rock & roller by night.