Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Big Rewind: Where Nostalgia Unfurls the Mystery with Heart and Snark

Cover image courtesy of HarperCollins
Mixtapes are a thing of great beauty. Music has often been called food for the soul, and when someone takes the time to compile a customized album, just for you, it is nothing less than magical. They are mailing their heart to you on polycarbonate.

I have made several mixtapes (in the form of CDs) for people over the years, but the only person who ever returned the favor to me was my dear friend and college cohort Libby Cudmore, who recently published her first novel, The Big Rewind, through HarperCollins. (She occasionally contributes her talent to this blog as well - check out her snarktastic review of Sin City: A Dame To Kill For.) And naturally, the plot revolves around solving a murder through the only major clue - a mixtape.

The Big Rewind is a gumshoe detective novel told from the perspective of a struggling young professional writer rather than a hardened private eye - Jett Bennett, along with a slew of snarky hipster friends ("lumbersexuals"- brilliant). Cudmore expertly captures the hustling, mercurial lifestyle that is the Big Apple. You can go from zero to hero and back again in the blink of an eye.Whether the reader is intimately familiar with good old New York, NY or has just seen the city lights from afar, Cudmore puts you right in the eye of the storm: 

"In the fashion show that was the L train, I was wearing my laundry-day T-shirt from the 'Save our Bluths' - themed run last fall for Habitat for Humanity, meaning that I was completely invisible in a surging tide of seafoam Tom and ModCloth skirts."

 The book also realistically depicts the challenges of city living, as Jett tries to keep her nose above the water working for a freelance agency - which includes some dubious "favors" for her boss - and counts her pennies in the process of sleuthing out the killer of her friend and neighbor, the charmingly bohemian and retro KitKat. This ain't no Sex and City fantasy island, where a weekly columnist can afford her own apartment and Manolo Blahnik heels twice a month.

Sailor Mars is so right.
We humans often turn to nostalgia to remind us of less stressful moments of our lives. For Jett, that nostalgia comes in the form of a "Boyfriend Box" that hold mementos from her past relationships - "The box had traveled, unopened, with me every time I moved. As long as it was there, I didn't have to think about it - like it was the Dorian Gray picture of my heart." Interspersed with the sleuthing is a great deal of resolving the past, which at times distracts from the main narrative, but Jett becomes less of a caricature and more multidimensional as facing her past makes her whole again. Her best friend and current major crush Sid smooths off Jett's rough edges with his Southern gentleman charm while simultaneously rankling her with his typical male obliviousness to her affections. This theme of the past clarifying the present plays into the personal development of Jett as a character and the development of the overall plot.

This review would be remiss if I didn't discuss the other major character in the book besides Jett - the music. What is wonderful about reading this book is if you keep your smartphone or laptop handy, there are so many great references to songs both implicit and explicit that you can look up after reading a chapter and enjoy. In fact, you could make your own "Big Rewind" mix tape and it would be the raddest thing ever. The chapter titles are snippets of song lyrics or song titles, and I was super excited to discover one was "What Have I Done to Deserve This?" which references a classic Pet Shop Boys song, my favorite band and a group we discovered together back in college. I would never would've discovered this obscure jem of a song by a band called the Lightning Seeds without this good read. 

 As the narrative began to resolve itself, I got the same sad sensation of leaving something dear behind - a good journey coming to its inevitable conclusion, but one I would never regret having made.

Guest Critic Kitteh reviewer Jackaroo sez: Just like a mixtape, The Big Rewind can be a bit too nostalgic for its own good at times, but overall a solid debut.