Award Date

8-2010

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in English

Department

English

First Committee Member

Douglas Unger, Chair

Second Committee Member

John Irsfeld

Third Committee Member

Dave Hickey

Graduate Faculty Representative

Michael Pravica

Number of Pages

521

Abstract

Mariah Black is the picaresque tale of Russell Fingers, a failed jazz musician who takes a stab at success playing bass in a hard rock band called Mariah Black. In the opening chapter of the novel, Russell, on the heels of yet another failed project, steals a rare double bass from the back of a Chicago club. The crime is part success, part botch, and in the aftermath Russell is run out of town. Against a backdrop of a forgotten Midwest, Russell is launched on an odyssey of gritty bars, diners, VFW halls and rundown railroad towns. He revives an old band and an old dream, but the cost is high. Old debts and lovers come calling, a dormant love triangle is resuscitated, and Russell is forced to make increasingly perilous concessions to keep his band together and the show on the road. Surrounded by melting gear, frayed tempers, conniving lovers, and a disintegrating van, he plows onward. As his obsession deepens and the money runs out, Russell leads Mariah Black further into the dark heart of American mass culture, searching for a bit of ground on which to make a life out of his craft.

As with any work of fiction, the themes explored by the novel are various. Mariah Black plays with the conventions of a well-trod genre--the rock `n roll novel--but at the heart of the story is an unusual, lyrical look at the nature of art, obsession, and the peculiar difficulties of life on the road. The central action of the novel takes place in the late nineteen-nineties, a time in which the established values of popular music, as well as the traditional means by which artists get paid for their craft, are changing rapidly. The novel is, at its heart, an exploration of the funny, sometimes awful effects of a kid trying to live according to the values and myths of a world that no longer exists.

Keywords

Bands (Music); Creative writing; Fiction; Musicians; Novel; Travel

Disciplines

American Literature | American Popular Culture | Creative Writing | Literature in English, North America

Language

English

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