One of the most anticipated novels of the summer, Stone Arabia tells the tale of Denise Worth and her imaginary rock star brother Nik. Nik is real but his career is imaginary. A Henry Darger-esque documentation of his fantasy stardom and aesthetic swerve into self-indulgent wankery, including a slew of fictional rock critics’ opinions thereof, is his true art. Denise, a single mother and executive assistant to real life Hollywood royalty, is Nik’s best fan and arguably worst enabler. Denise’s daughter Ada seems to be gearing up for a larger-than-life career as an imaginary film maker. Denise’s mother is slowly succumbing to dementia. Denise has a hard time figuring out what is real. She is addicted to the news.
A meditation on media saturated 21st century identity construction isn’t exactly lacking in the world right now but Spiotta gives us enough minutia (both emotional and pop cultural) to lend Stone Arabia some heart. Maybe this material is a little close to home for me to judge it at a distance but I kept wanting something to happen: for someone to die, for someone to get famous, for a family secret to blow the top off things, etc. Spiotta opts for slow burn. You’ll be left looking in the mirror and person on the other side will be staring back hard. Though disappointment is integral to the performance, there are probably enough entertainment business administrative assistants and imaginary rock stars in this town for Stone Arabia to become a local hit.