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Rachel Hutchings
Dreams abandoned, out of work and uninspired, guitar prodigy Joe Harper is a sensitive, struggling millennial rapidly approaching his mid-30s and haunted by his history of failure. With a promising future in music long forgotten, Joe is resigned to a life of virtual seclusion, listless among his beloved redwood trees. But when he receives word from his long lost love, October, informing him of her upcoming art exhibit, Joe is awash with memories of the past and must ultimately decide if cowardice is reversible. Given a second chance, in more ways than one, can he recover the self-respect he lost long ago?
DeBartolo—novelist, filmmaker, and co-founder of record label Bright Antenna—crafts a fresh story of love, loss, and music. Thirty-seven-year-old Joe Harper personifies sorrow at the novel’s start: he’s long since given up on his dream of becoming a guitarist, is estranged from his best friend Cal, has recently gone through a painful breakup, and is drunk in a public library. Meanwhile, his ex-lover, renowned performance artist October Danko, has a new transactional piece at SFMoMa, in which she uses her touch synesthesia to understand others’ sorrow. Joe is left to decide whether he should visit her exhibit and attempt to repair his fractured life, or continue on his path of sadness and isolation.

DeBartolo is no stranger to stories and music, and it shows in her carefully crafted details, humorous dialogue, and nuanced characterization. Joe’s depressive ruminations are believable without growing tiresome; he is a character for whom readers will root and weep. Each character comes with a richly layered past that contributes to both their development the novel’s overarching conflicts. Alongside the affecting plot, DeBartolo weaves a playlist through the narrative that perfectly complements characters’ emotions, featuring lyrics from The National, Fleetwood Mac, and Damien Rice.

This cinematic novel employs all five senses in descriptions of its lush California setting, precise attention to little details, and artfully woven plot. The author deftly builds small, seemingly inconsequential connections into significant events that effectively and irrevocably alter characters’ trajectory. This unflinching look at romance, life, and estrangement considers how, as October says, “everything we do and every moment we live can be a work of art.”

Takeaway: Musicians, visual artists, writers, and readers will love this well-crafted, page-turning tale of romance and loss.

Great for fans of: Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad, Sally Rooney’s Normal People, Meg Wolitzer.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A-
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: A