by Joseph Garraty
Ragman Press LLC (2011)
If you could, would you strike a deal with the devil to achieve your greatest ambition? Sometimes when you look at a Hollywood A-lister, or a wheelin’ dealin’ politician, or one of those tycoons on Wall St., you have to wonder if maybe, just maybe, some signed their own names on the dotted line. In Joseph Garraty’s debut novel, Voice, is an aspiring rock star named John Tsiboukas who gets his wish … for a price.
Voice isn’t just about John, who after gaining his voice adopts the persona of Johnny Tango, but also looks at what happens through the eyes of his bandmates. In particular, his new lead guitarist, Stephanie Case, whom he lured into the ragtag band after hearing her play her heart out with an even less talented band than John’s. Along with their bass player, Quentin, and John’s brother Danny on drums, they are Ragman. And with Johnny Tango leading the charge, the derelict band soon gains fans, paying gigs, and a rocketship to stardom. All the while, a sinister, seedy looking man named Douglas watches on, and Johnny’s voice starts to do more than just belt out the hits.
Voice is a strong debut that offers an authenticity with its rock-and-roll backdrop, as Garraty is a musician himself. And his characters really jump off the page at times, especially Case with her brassy onstage demeanor and take-no-bullshit attitude offstage. In fact, the book really felt like it was her story more than it did Johnny’s while reading it, thanks to her budding friendship with a coworker to whom Case becomes an informal self-defense instructor, plus the simmering sexual tension between her and John’s brother–John’s married brother. Through some of this subplot though, the pace and direction of the novel loses is lost at times, or at least diverted on tangents from time to time.
The behind the scenes view of a struggling rock band was pulled off quite well by Garraty, but I’ve never immersed myself in music culture, so a lot of the lingo and scenarios were foreign to me. The jargon can be a bit of a stumbling block, but without it, there’d be a lot less to give this story its tangibility.
It’s a good book, and a genuine surprise when I was expecting something more conventional with the timeworn premise of “selling your soul.”