Cecilia Tan has been writing professionally since she was a teenager in the 1980s. She sold her first fiction in the early 90s, and her short stories have appeared in Nerve, Ms. Magazine, Strange Horizons, and Best American Erotica. She is the author of many books, most with fantasy and science fiction themes, including Black Feathers, The Velderet, White Flames, Mind Games, The Siren and the Sword, The Hot Streak, The Tower and the Tears, and Telepaths Don't Need Safewords. She is also the founder and editorial director of Circlet Press. Find out more at http://blog.ceciliatan.com
on Oct. 16, 2010 :
When I ran into this story on its website, I started reading... and didn't stop until I faceplanted two hours past my bedtime. And then I woke up the next day and did it again until I got to the end. That probably tells you everything you need to know right there. -_-
But more extensively: this is a first-person narrative set in the 80s, told by a 19-year-old musician trying to make it in the rock scene. He's got a problem family, no money, and if that wasn't enough of a challenge, he's also gay. In the 80s.
I have to be honest... I'm kind of over coming-of-age stories. I may at one point be excited about them again, but for now I'm really tired of the pinhole perspective of self-involved teens. But Daron's Guitar is missing that "this universe is populated solely by teens" feeling. Tan fills Daron's world with adults at every stage in their life, from the grizzled music veterans, the failures and the tired agents to their daughters, Daron's schoolmates and the hopefuls in the music industry. Daron observes them all; sometimes he lacks the life experience to understand them, but we know that they have a life outside Daron's limited perspective and Tan paints that very well. This world feels real: like our world, like we could run into Daron today and this will all have had happened.
Not only that, but the music details are just fabulous. This is someone who really knows her stuff. I actually laughed out loud when Daron made a reference to Jon Anderson when snarking about a former roommate who was trying to get weird/experimental. If that wasn't enough, every chapter title... is an 80s song. Not just a trip down nostalgia lane for those of us who lived through them, but an impromptu soundtrack and pretty darned clever.
Finally, I'm really impressed by the portrayal of Daron's relationship difficulties (such as he can be said to have them, given the circumstances). His struggle between the typical teen hormonal highs and lows and his need to have a meaningful tie with someone... it's poignant and deftly evoked. Such a great loneliness, conveyed so powerfully and yet without preaching.
This is incredibly skillful writing and a compelling story. Pick it up in this format, or get it off the website... you won't be disappointed either way.
(review of free book)
on Oct. 10, 2010 :
The strength of Cecilia Tan's fiction has always been her characters. She can write delightfully wicked villains that you can't help but love to hate. She can pen a cad with the best of them. But in my opinion, she shines the brightest when her she writes a character who is simply heartwrenchingly sweet, especially when that character seems to hope beyond hope that this wasn't true of them.
The protagonist of this story is one of those characters. Rock guitarists are supposed to be thick-skinned and effortlessly charming cads. Daron isn't this at all: Daron is...well, he's real. It's 1986 and Daron isn't even 20 yet and he's already well on his way to being a future rock god. Unfortunately instead of being a womanizing sweet-talker he's an averagely awkward 19-year old who just happens to be gay (even though he can't even bring himself to say the word.) He doesn't know anything yet about who he really is, or what he needs in a partner, or even if he wants a partner at all. All he knows is that in his business “faggy,” “queer,” and “gay” are the most viciously insulting words there are.
There is a fantastic scene early on the in the book in which Daron is walking around the East Village in NYC with Carynne, a girl his age who is desperately trying to sleep with him while he is desperately trying to come up with excuses not to without confessing that he's gay:
***I kept my own eyes ahead, trying not to stare at the graffiti splashed across the steps ("Queer By Choice") trying not to hear the conversation of the two men coming the other way, trying to shut it all out. My hands felt damp as they brushed against my jeans. Everything here was a signal, a secret handshake, a subliminal image, and I wondered how long it would take Carynne to see right through me. What would I do that would give myself away? Even I had no way of knowing.***
The author does a fantastic job throughout the book of generating empathy for her lead character without provoking pity. We as readers can feel his hurt and his confusion, and share his victories and regrets. Being gay is an integral part of who Daron is, but Ms Tan doesn't fall into the trap of allowing his sexuality to become his identity entire. He is a well-rounded sympathetic and delightful character in a charming, at times poignantly sad but always engaging book. Rock on, Daron, rock on!
(review of free book)