THE ANGEL RIOTS by Ibi Kaslik (Penguin), 256 pages, $22 paper. Rating: NNNN
Ibi Kaslik’s cruelly tender second novel is a backstage encounter with Canadian indie music, full of sly allusions to the struggles that characterized Broken Social Scene’s rise to fame.
From one musician’s prairie backstory to the dankness of Montreal’s bar scene, the writer follows the movement and growth of complex characters across familiar landscapes.
When a farm accident separates prairie girl and part-time protagonist Jim from her brother Yawnie, Jim focuses on her violin. The siblings’ once private language becomes an internal feedback loop of loss and shame that spurs Jim to flee to Montreal.
A painful, beautiful sense of doubleness informs the novel as Kaslik tracks the rise and fall of Montreal indie symphony-rock bands the Angel Riots and the Bong Lights from their naive, energetic conception to their ultimate dramatic disintegration.
When a cross-continental tour drives the musicians to their psychic and emotional limits, Jim’s and bandmate Rize’s interweaving stories become increasingly enthralling and complicated.
Kaslik’s ringing prose captures the glory of playing music onstage and the devastation that follows when the lights come up and the crowd disperses.
While she exploits the rock ’n’ roll clichés of the suffering artist and power-hungry egomaniac, Kaslik challenges these caricatures by giving them depth and context. The sardonic character Kellog, for instance, the mastermind behind the Angel Riots and the Bong Lights, is the quintessential sellout whose conniving intellect and social clout get the band famous – at the band’s expense.
Kaslik also reveals the shadows in her characters’ minds, and doesn’t gloss over their flaws. Drug and alcohol addictions, illicit love affairs, the drive to succeed – she describes it all with riff-sharp poignancy.
Kaslik appears with the Angel Riots and special guest Apostle of Hustle at the Gladstone Tuesday (April 1).