Groupies by Sarah Priscus
My rating: 4/5 cats
Josie, who’d be covered in blood on bathroom tiles in nine months’ time, met me at the Greyhound station.
now that’s how you bang open a novel!
this is a sleazy, breezy summertime book that would be great friends with Daisy Jones & The Six; both of them time capsules splaying out the excesses of the 70s rock scene in all its tawdry glory.
it’s set in 1977 california, where childhood besties faun-and-josie reunite in LA after they have both dropped out of their respective colleges. faun arrives on the west coast to find josie already entrenched in the celebrity scene—working as a model and dating holiday sun frontman cal holiday, a man and a band both girls high-school-crushed on. aspiring photographer faun quickly becomes one of the many girls on the band’s periphery; a fan turned intimate inner-circle; a groupie unofficially tasked with soothing egos, deflecting squabbles, taking constant polaroids of the backstage lives of the band and their on-and-off paramours—sex, drugs, rock and roll and parties parties parties.
I turned and vomited into a rosebush.
I was having the time of my life.
it’s pretty much everything you’d expect from a novel-version of Almost Famous; women rebranding sex as emotional support, elevating the position of groupie into a necessary, almost spiritual purpose:
We needed something to nurture, and they needed nurturing. Constant attention made you need it even more. The band never learned to be alone and neither did we. But if they were starved for attention and we were, too, didn’t we make a perfect pair?
through faun’s eyes, we are immersed in a celebration of the glamor and grit of the 70s music scene, where Life was rainbows and muck—given a doped-up backstage pass to holiday sun’s highs and lows; a neverending party where underage girls drift in and out of the bars and bedrooms of the rich and famous and no one is ever sober for long.
faun, who has spent her life treading the paths that dazzling josie boldly cut through the world, soon becomes intoxicated by the buzzy lifestyle and…various intoxicants, networking via parties and hookups, chronicling holiday sun’s bacchanals, and spinning out beautifully.
Life kept getting better. Broader. My world was expanding so quickly that I couldn’t stop it, nor did I want to.
it’s a splashy, ragged-edged, guilty-pleasure story—who doesn’t love a juicy tell-all, even when it’s about an imaginary band? but it’s not all good-time frivolity and fandom—in a shocking act of betrayal, faun makes a selfish decision that spirals into capital-c consequences, and then faun’s drinking-unto-oblivion is more about squashing her guilt than having a good time, gleaning some hard-won insights along the way.
Everything I’d loved I’d lost, and every time I’d lost it, I said it was my own fault. A lot of the time it was. But not always. Self-pity is so simple. So is self-blame. Easier than having to understand the world doesn’t revolve around you, that it doesn’t always love you back.
the world most certainly doesn’t love groupies, and josie and girls like her are scrutinized and judged by jealous holiday sun fans and those people who love to hate any expression of female sexuality.
People said she was self-obsessed and conniving, only interested in Cal and his kin for the fame. People said the same of any groupie. We all want things. Desire’s not deviant. It’s human nature.
it’s a pretty impressive debut—priscus‘ writing is like movie-buttered popcorn: slick and addictive, with some nicely-phrased descriptions (that last quality is not to be found in movie-buttered popcorn):
The tears on my cheeks had dried, leaving my face tense and shiny. I had a look of slept-in insanity, with eyes that felt burst, but I didn’t cry again.
along with the behind-the-scenes dirt of the music scene, priscus captures a moment in time, where—despite all the casual sex and substance abuse, the world seemed safer, more innocent:
Roaming the streets alone didn’t scare her—it bored her. It bored all of us. Sure, socially I sometimes felt anxious enough to puke, but when I was out walking, I was never afraid. The world seemed bright and open-armed, not deadly. My mother had been wrong about everything.
We were at the very end of the golden era of fearless girls. Soon, women would learn distrust, pumped full of fear by serial-killer newsreels and common sense. But those things weren’t in our reality yet. They existed but seemed impossible. Faraway. False. Sure, soon, every girl would look over her shoulder at every turn and lock her car as soon as she hopped into it—but not quite yet. We were still lawless and mindless. Gaggles of bright-eyed girls would prod at each other on the bus, sharing lipstick by kissing, leaving home with only a five-dollar bill and, if they were cautious, a house key. We’d kiss anyone and touch anyone and go anywhere with anyone, as long as the person smiled.
i mean, that’s for sure some sugarcoating and revisionist history thru drug-smacked eyes—the world has never been safe for women, but it’s a lovely dreamworld sentiment nonetheless, although faun will very quickly learn that this perception of safety is really just willful ignorance; turning a blind eye to the reality of abuse going on all around her.
it’s a solid story about being young and dumb; unapologetically bursting through life, making mistakes and paying the price. it’s a 3.5, but i’m rounding up, why not?
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