Wonderland by Stacey D'Erasmo

2 of 17
256 pages; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Wonderland, Stacey D'Erasmo's briskly addictive novel, is told in the voice of Anna Brundage, a female rock Ulysses, as she navigates the waters of a dubious comeback tour across Europe with her cranky band and a rucksack full of art and angst. At age 40-plus, Anna is talented but broke, knackered by love and redeemed—not often enough—by perfect, sweaty, transcendent moments onstage. She is a flawed but wryly self-aware heroine who admits to the serendipity of her greatest hit: "The record sounded simultaneously like a dress slipping off a bare shoulder and a girl falling down a well. People liked that sound that year." 

In this, her fourth novel, D'Erasmo is in full control. Some sentences dance like wind chimes in a hurricane; others evanesce. We get exactly why Anna subjects herself to the grubby loneliness of the road and the sticky devotions of fans; D'Erasmo expertly conjures the seductive uncharted space that lures the sculptor, the musician—the shape not yet made, "the unheard chord...the sound you don't quite hear." She also captures the passion that drives Anna's search for true connection. The long-term, multi-city romance that throbs beneath her flings with fans and band members seems impossible: Simon is married, a rootless émigré, and perhaps the love of her life.

In quiet moments, Anna floats in fathomless grief for a lost hero, her "crazed and beautiful" artist father, Roy. She covers her rent by teaching carpentry to private-school girls. It's a hard-knock life, but there is a soft surprise at the tale's still center: an affecting portrait of a brilliant, nomadic, once-happy family.
— Gerri Hershey