It is hardly a new revelation that the music of one’s youth is that which is most resonant throughout the rest of our lives. It is the soundtrack of our adolescent development, the rhythm of our initiation into love, into heartbreak, and who we are in the process of becoming. And it sticks with us no matter how far beyond it we grow.
It is a conversation I frequently have with a colleague and friend. And though our references are often separated by a generation or two, there is enough overlap that we understand each other completely.
Libby Cudmore’s The Big Rewind is crafted around that very concept. The music throughout the novel –and there is a lot of it– is the underpinnings of both the solution of the murder mystery and the liberation of its protagonist, Jett Bennett.
Bennett, who had come to New York hoping to land a job in music journalism, feels very much a square peg in the ultra-hip(ster) world of Brooklyn. Her downstairs neighbor, KitKat, who is at the vortex of Brooklyn hipdom, has befriended her, but she dies in the first few pages, brutally murdered with a rolling pin.
And Bennett is the one who finds her.
Bennett had been bringing a mixed-tape to KitKat which had come in the mail and had mistakenly been delivered to her. Later, she “inherits” an entire box of KitKat’s mixed-tapes, music selected and arranged in such a way that Bennett believes they point to the identity of the killer.
And as she goes through KitKat’s tapes, she also re-discovers her own tapes and takes a journey through heartbreak and love and hope and despair. It is this music that will ultimately scattered the clouds that have been hanging heavily upon her.
Capturing the hipster world of Brooklyn, the basement night-clubs and the trendy brunch-eries, the world of vegans and punks and poseurs, among those selling vinyl records and those selling pot-laced cupcakes, Cudmore gives us a fast pace mystery that is fun, nostalgic and wry. Her eye for detail is unerring –given to us often with tongue firmly in her cheek. Irony is alive and well in Libby Cudmore.
And Bennett is a hero we can love. She is vulnerable, honest, and striving to understand herself. And she believes in her truth, for which she will fight. With her friend Syd, she immerses herself into the world of punk music and strippers, academia and neighborhood community, of fetishes and memory. And she comes out okay.
There has been much written about The Big Rewind and comparing it to Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity. And that is somewhat accurate. But whereas, Hornby’s novel is ultimately about his protagonist’s understanding his failures, successes and lost opportunities in love, The Big Rewind seems a little different. For one, it is a murder mystery and a fairly good one. And even after the solution seems evident, there are still enough issues yet to be resolved to keep the reader racing towards the end.
And that’s what I did. I began it somewhere over the Rockies on a red-eye flight to the East Coast and had it finished when I landed. It is that captivating.
I admit that much of the music, I did not know. Though there was still much that was familar. And many of Jett’s obsessions are understandable and familiar as well. At one point she plays Warren Zevon’s “Accidentally Like a Martyr” over and over again. I’ve done the same with the same song. (Both she, her friend Syd and I are serious Warren Zevon fans.) I know people who, like Jett, have had similar obsessions with the Cure and the Smiths, and some who know even the more obscure bands, like the Clarks. (Very big in Western Pennsylvania.)
Libby Cudmore is a shrewd observer, and the world she creates for her protagonist is honest and real. The Big Rewind is well worth the read.
It’s like finding a vinyl Tom Rush in the sales-bin.