Rock music is not just a genre, but a sub-culture of society with its own fashion, attitudes, messaging, and language. In the early 1970s, rock bands like Black Sabbath, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin and many more were at the top of the charts. It is at the beginning of this decade where Dawnie Walton places the fictitious and quirky rock duo, Opal and Nev, in her debut novel. Despite being an unlikely pair, their electrifying music and message has a distinct impact on the genre.
In The Final Revival of Opal & Nev, S. Sunny Shelton is assembling the aural history of 70s rock duo, Nev Charles and Opal Jewel. When Nev travels to the United States from Britain, he signs a deal with new record label, Rivington Records. He begins his search for a musical partner and connects with Opal at an amateur night in Detroit. When Rivington signs a new band, whose music goes against everything she believes in, Opal’s daring protest and the violence that follows changes everything. Intimate interviews with Opal, Nev, and other characters they interacted with chronicle their humble beginnings, the tragic event which catapulted them to fame, and the heavy toll their newfound stardom brings them. Sunny’s personal connection to Opal and Nev’s story fuels her desire to dig deeper than any journalist before her before their reunion tour is set to begin.
This novel does not follow the common narrative structure of a fictional novel, but is written in a long interview format with notes from the editor and annotations along the bottom of the pages. At first, I was uncertain about this format, but it did not take long to adjust to this style and the story flowed very well. I was able to picture this as a music documentary and could clearly visualize the characters and the setting. The annotations are especially helpful for readers who are unfamiliar with the time period when characters briefly reference public figures or events in history.
Walton breathes live into each character, establishing their own language and tone unique to their individual personalities. I often forgot I was reading fiction as I became absorbed in the realism of this story. Described as “ugly” or “weird”, Opal is determined to define herself and exudes undeniable power, presence, and raw talent. Nev is a natural born storyteller who seems to put all of himself into his music. He is more sensitive than Opal, but is also a bit of an outcast with his own gawky appearance. The characters have their positive moments, but they are also rounded out with faults, mistakes and insecurities.
Racism is prevalent in this novel and fuels Opal’s protest against the band who boldly touts the Confederate flag and caters to a mean-spirited audience. This ultimately aggravates the already unruly crowd and leads to an unforgettably violent encounter at Rivington’s promotional concert that haunts those involved forever.
This novel was well-written and captivating from beginning to end. Overall, Walton did an amazing job of developing characters and her writing kept me in suspense throughout the novel. It did not take long for me to become just as invested in the story as the editor. While I personally loved the story format, I do think readers should find a sample if they are unsure of this writing style prior to purchasing the book. I recommend this book for anyone interested in rock and roll and stories with strong female protagonists. Walton is clearly a talented writer and I hope to read more of her work in the future.
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