Turn Around Bright Eyes by Rob Sheffield (3 out of 5)
I’ve read Rob Sheffield’s other two books. I loved both of them. I walked into this with slight trepidation, only because I am not a believer of karaoke. I do not believe in subjecting my loyal subjects to the tone-deaf notes I attempt to hit while whacked out on many glasses of wine. I wasn’t sure how he was going to hold this story together if the center of his universe this time revolved around karaoke. Of course, it didn’t. The nexus of the book is Ally, an astronomist who Rob meets years after the sudden death of his beloved wife, and falls for. Karaoke is the glue that holds these two together. While some foolish romantic side of me wants to believe that I am going to dive headfirst into this believing like I used to believe in REO Speedwagon, I cannot say that with a clear conscience. The book is smaller than his previous two. If you read Love Is A Mix Tape, your heart swells and sends out giant loveballs the entire book; then the end and you’re sobbing your eyes out. I know- I did. I’m not ashamed to admit it. My heart was fucking broke for the dude. Talking to Girls About Duran Duran goes into a whole different category, reliving his 1980’s youth and the bands and music that shaped his adolescence and continue to inspire him through the bumpy ride known as being an adult. This book picks up after Mix Tape leaves off. Rob’s a widower and three years later, moves, finds the strength to pack up all mementos of his life with his deceased wife, and begins trying to live a normal life again. He discovers karaoke, and more importantly, he discovers Ally. Things change, but the love of the microphone and dimly lit karaoke bars reverberates all through the book. What happens? Where did he lose me?
Truthfully, I really enjoyed a number of things about the book. Namely, it was so light and fluffy I was easily distracted for a couple of hours, but it didn’t pack much of a punch. It was like craving Dr. Pepper 10, and instead having Seagram’s Ginger Ale. I enjoyed Rob’s chapters about Rock N’ Roll Fantasy Camp, their mutual love of Boy George (I especially enjoyed the comment about Boy George’s handwriting and their shared love of the “Church of the Poison Mind” video), and the Rod Stewart chapter was awesome. I enjoyed Duran Duran getting a lot of mention, and thought it was hysterical to read Nick and Simon’s first karaoke songs. Never too much DD info to add to my arsenal.
What didn’t I enjoy? As I already mentioned, how light and airy it was. There wasn’t much content in this binder of words. I also didn’t enjoy the wordplay that was almost every single time a lyric to a karaoke song that Sheffield obviously sang or enjoyed greatly. I’m not sure if that annoyed me, because it was a calculated move with writing, or because it was fucking annoying that I spent so much time trying to figure out what song the lyric went in. A little of both, I think. It was so contrived, this little trick of dumping a song lyric in to describe an emotion, instead of just describing it. People tend to do shit like that when the writing is missing something. In the case of the book, it’s missing straight up sentiment and is replaced with schmaltzy lyric reminders. If I want that, I’ll play Bad Music Trivia with Andrew at work. The chapters are too short. I thought there would be more reminisces in each chapter, but there’s a lot of ruminating. Almost so ridiculously optimistic you want to make him read an Oprah Book Club Pick to somber him the fuck up. Not much substance, more sassy fancy pantsing than anything else. Sheffield is so triumphant that he got the girl that it almost turns into a Hanes for Her panty commercial. You are so happy for him, but he could have written a more succinct portrait of his love for this girl. I know the karaoke is the main tie that binds them, but at least word it so that you don’t sound like you were racing the General Lee through the Walmart parking lot to impress her. Just say it. Write it as if you were writing her a love note. If someone handed this to me and said it was a love note, I think I would wad it up like a spitball and throw it at them. It’s not insulting to read this, it’s more insulting to Sheffield’s talent that he didn’t give us a full-scope book like he has with the last two. Someone called into class sick, and turned this in with Rob Sheffield’s name upon it. It’s just not the magnum opus that the last two books were. I still enjoyed it, and am incredibly happy that the shattered young man we saw at the end of Love Is A Mix Tape has moved on with grieving his wife and is rediscovering love and life with someone new. And a newfound love of karaoke. Something I will never understand, and never partake in, but it’s his life, not mine, and he has a right to live it as he wishes and write about it. I just wish the writing would have been more titillating.