"Shackling Water" has some problems that could be chalked up to this being Mansbach's first novel: Dreams explain Latif's feelings in tidy allegories, a handy coincidence ties Latif's former teacher to Van Horn, and time occasionally lapses inelegantly. That being said, though, strong, energetic writing and characters keep this book on mark. Scenes spill forth like solos, rangy with improvisational brilliance and slinky hipster-speak, and Mansbach actually gets away with soaring descriptions of jazz performances. But the writing would only be window dressing without Mansbach's strong characters who deal honestly with important inner conflicts about art, love and race. The result is a novel that uses the coming-of-age genre as a jazz musician might use an old standard, as a platform from which to launch magnificent solos. Mathias Svalina
Behind the Music
"Kiss and Make Up" by Gene Simmons ($25.95 from Crown Publishers, December 2001; 288 pages)
Who better to write a book of the arena rock band of the '70s than the guy with the giant tongue? Gene Simmons pens this memoir of his life with the band Kiss.
"The Dirt: Confessions of the World's Most Notorious Rock Band" by Tommy Lee et al. ($27.95 from Regan Books, May 2001, 448 pages)
Most notorious? According to them. What's different about this tell-all book is that everyone in the band speaks up, and they promise some of the dirtiest secrets of the '80s glam-rock hair-spray scene.
"This Must Be the Place: Adventures with the Talking Heads" by David Bowman ($25 from Harper Entertainment, April 2001, 352 pages)
Widely influential, these art-rockers are considered by many to be the hippest band of the last century. From the Heads' days opening for the Ramones at the CGBG to their breakup in 1991, this book explores the band that was once called "completely of its time and totally outside of it."
"The Smiths and Beyond: Iconic Images of the Seminal Pop Miserablists" by Kevin Cummings ($18.95 from Vision, April 2002, 96 pages)
The Smiths were a launching pad for nearly every morose young man and woman who grew up during the '80s. This book, which is mostly just band photos, shows that unhappiness and narcissism continue to go hand-in-hand.
"Heavier Than Heaven: A Biography of Kurt Cobain" by Charles R. Cross. ($24.95 from Hyperion, August 2001, 400 pages)
Kurt Cobain's suicide left his fans with many unanswered questions. This biography like the three that came before it promises definitive answers, but will we ever really know?
Compiled by Francis W. Decker