Destroy All Monsters

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 16 Oct 2018

Member Reviews

DESTROY ALL MONSTERS: THE LAST ROCK NOVEL by author Jeff Jackson is an unusual novel story that is about an increasingly present phenomenon where musicians are murdered while in the midst of live performances, and the effect that this has on a few highlighted characters that are musicians and those involved with them, creating fear as an addition to the apathy and unfocused lifestyle of the musicians themselves.

Motivation for the murders isn’t known, and commitment by law enforcement to solve the crimes seems non existent, which leads to a reluctance to perform by the musicians until the situation can be stopped or eventually fades away.

I have to admit that I was attracted to this novel by the title, which brought to mind the band by the same name that at one time included Ron Ashton of The Stooges, and while this novel has a definite punk presence, it doesn’t really fit with the title in my opinion, although while interesting at times the story is somewhat difficult to follow and for me too strange to find believable.

Select target audience for this book would seem to be those interested in novels involving independent artists with a punk influence who are disillusioned and self absorbed.

3 stars.
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Published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux on October 16, 2018

I started reading Destroy All Monsters three times before I found myself in the right mood to settle into the story. When I did, the novel wouldn’t let me go. The plot is strange and disturbing, but disturbance is sometimes necessary to shake us out of our complacency, to make us see the world in a different way. Make of the story what you will — and I’m certain that different readers will interpret it in different ways — I found it to be compelling even as I wondered whether I was truly grasping its intended meaning.

The first and longer installment of Destroy All Monsters is "My Dark Ages." It imagines that apparently random shootings at music venues are a national epidemic — a discomforting thought that requires little imagination. The killings serve no obvious agenda (they do not appear to be political) but they might be inspired by the dark rage that lurks within high-energy rock.

The first section of "My Dark Ages" focuses on an industrial city called Arcadia, where a shooter enters a club and targets a band. The second section focuses on a different Arcadia band in the aftermath of the shooting. Its guitar player, Florian, was the best friend of a band member who dies in the first section. The novel begins to gain power as it describes Florian and his band coping with their emotional turmoil. They need to decide whether to play again, not because they are afraid of being shot, but because they might prove unworthy. At the same time, they are conflicted: should they play as a tribute to the fallen, or should they make the moment their own?

Xenie, the dead musician’s girlfriend, plays a key role. Hanging out with a band manager, she ponders whether the attacks on bands are connected. Are they a commentary, she wonders, on how bad local bands have become (“The smarmy bluegrass revivalists in the Deep South. The listless jam band in the Midwest”)? Has music been destroyed by its performance and consumption?

The story becomes tense as Florian’s band prepares to play in the newly reopened club. Florian and Xenie are at odds about what this performance should be and how the dead musician should be remembered. The story takes an unexpected turn at that point. It becomes a meditation on the meaning of courage as Xenie and Florian each contemplate an act that might be seen as courageous or cowardly.

In the print version of Destroy All Monsters, the last third of the novel, in the form of a novella titled “Kill City,” has a separate cover, like an old Ace Double. Flip the book over and you get a new book, or at least a new novella that tells a different version of "My Dark Ages." I assume the idea is that the book, like an old record, has an A-side and a B-side, hence the picture of a vinyl 45 next to the subtitles.

"Kill City" begins with a noticeably confused boy who pulls a pistol and starts firing in a North Carolina veterans’ hall filled with garage and jam bands. We start to see a pattern in killings that spread through decaying industrial cities. The killers are dazed, detached loners who might be aching for a performance of their own. One of them claims to be shooting in self-defense.

The final shooting in “Kill City” is the same Arcadia shooting that opens the novel, except that the victims are different. The mourner in the first story becomes the mourned in the second and the band manager is a different gender. What should the reader make of that? I’m not certain, although seeing what is essentially the same story through the eyes of altered characters contributes to a greater understanding of the novel’s themes. The changes are important: a funeral in the first novel is very different from the counterpart’s funeral in the second novel, leading to meaningful questions about the nature and purpose of death rituals.

The aftermath of death is one of the novel’s primary themes. When do we let go? Do we let go of too much of our loved ones or not enough? The characters understandably spend a good bit of time thinking about death and their insights are valuable. Guns are another theme, from hunters gleefully culling the deer population to killers who behave like zombies when they pick up a gun. America’s fascination with killers, the ease with which they become celebrities, is a related theme.

Destroy All Monsters is told in matter-of-fact sentences that sometimes achieve an elegant purity of storytelling. Point of view shifts, sometimes relating events in the second person, as if a narrator is describing actions to the character who performs them. Both in style and content, Destroy All Monsters is interesting and edgy. I think it is also rewarding, although working out its meaning may require a second close reading.

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In Destroy All Monsters, Jeff Jackson explores the universal enjoyment of music, but exposes us to the rage and pain that humans all also share. His quiet, spare writing adds to bare landscape of hurt for which this novel has empathy. As his country reels from the pain caused by shootings, Jackson finds solace in empathy, which destroys far more of this novel’s monsters than all of its characters’ violence and aggression. However, his climax isn’t fluffy and it does not offer a surefire cure. These characters purge their pain in a raw, dramatic fashion, met with the applause of a sold-out house, but they make a choice not to be violent. Simultaneously gritty and compassionate, Destroy All Monsters calls for a release of tension in an era of fear by appealing to the pain, love, and music that connect us all as humans.
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A love story and dear john letter to local music scenes, bathed in bleak depression and blood. This book was part David Lynch, in it's bordering-on-absurd weird moments (but without his trademark atmospheric dread), and part Tarantino, in its excessive, almost thoughtless violence. While it made for an interesting read, there were a lot of loose ends and unresolved mysteries, including the main theme of the book - WHY are the killings of musicians happening? 

The A-side/B-side concept was cool, but the execution was a bit lacking: the B-side, "Kill City," was way less fleshed-out than the A-side, and was about 1/3 the length, so it read as almost an afterthought tacked on at the last minute to make the book more compelling. 

Ultimately, though, my general feeling while reading Destory All Monsters was one of sad disgust: In an era of mass shootings, many at music venues - at the Bataclan, the Pulse Nightclub, the Las Vegas concert - this book just seemed too on-the-nose and kind of insensitive about VERY real gun violence. It left me with a squicky feeling, and with the unresolved question of WHY and weird moments, it left me wondering what the point was here.

*Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC, provided by the author and/or the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
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A metaphor for the times we are living in, where an excess of information destroys all the contents and makes noise from all the signals. To this supporting metaphor are added other elements, taken from ancient and sylvan imagery and build a disquieting but realistic fresco.
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Musicians in small town music scenes are no longer safe at their shows.  Violence erupts at random shows across the country when audience members pull weapons and murder the band members on stage.

"Everybody was slow to call it an epidemic. They didn't want to believe these deaths were connected." *

Like a vinyl record, Destroy All Monsters has two sides:  Side A is a novel following musicians Shaun and Florian through the downfall of the music scene in the town of Arcadia due to violence.  We read about the shock and fear as the epidemic hits too close to home and grieve with Shaun's girlfriend Xenie in the aftermath.

"The first killings were terrifying, but as they gained momentum my reaction started to change. I saw it. There was a pattern. An idea behind what the killers were doing. I could feel their thoughts buzzing. I could almost trace the shadow cast by their actions." *

After the Arcadia tragedy, Florian takes the stage with his band in an attempt to shed the constant fear and bring the community together but suffers a breakdown in the process.

"The killers wanted music to matter again, she says. They wanted to purify it. It's like they were thinning the herd, putting wounded animals out their misery." *

Side B is a short story following an alternate history with the same characters with several surprises and focuses more on the methods of the murderers.

As a whole, Destroy All Monsters explores the ways in which violence (in this case, mass shootings) effects individuals and communities and the futile search for answers.  I enjoyed the descriptions of small town music scenes and the passion of the community.

Unfortunately, I found a lot of complex ideas/theories that were mentioned and decisions made by certain characters remained unexplored and because of that, the story fell flat for me.  I didn't connect with any of the characters because I couldn't fully understand their motivations as they didn't have enough opportunity to fully develop.

Thanks to FSG and NetGalley for providing an ARC in exchange for my honest review.  Destroy All Monsters: The Last Rock Novel is scheduled for release on October 16, 2018.

*Quotes included are from an advance readers copy and are subject to change upon final publication.
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Destroy All Monsters is an experimental punk rock novel that is more pieces of shrapnel than a cohesive text. It is also a really good argument for gun control.
In the story, if you can call it that, blank-eyed disenfranchised youth are walking into music venues and murdering mediocre bands. Whether they are doing this to leave the field clear for better music is not made clear. The killers themselves to not seem to know why they are doing it.  
How the killers are able to carry out these killing sprees is more of a puzzle. Surely after the first time, every venue would have better security. I was left not knowing what the point of the book was. I guess it was lost on me.
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When the massacre at the "Eagles of Death Metal" concert at the Bataclan happened, 90 music fans died and over 200 were wounded - I knew that could easily have been me, as it takes me less than two hours by train to reach that venue and I was contemplating to go see that very performance. This incident was part of a whole series of Islamist terror attacks which happened on that Friday in November 2015 in Paris. Meanwhile, it feels like mass shootings have become an epidemic in the United States where guns are easily available and politicians are dubiously hesitant to talk about domestic terrorism when these crimes are committed by white people (and most of them are). 

In "Destroy All Monsters", the US faces a mass shooting epidemic in which the targets are musicians and their audience, and the motives of the perpetrators remain unclear. Our protagonists Xenie, Shaun and Florian are musicians and/or music fans and when one of the mass shootings finally happens in their town, they are all affected by it differently.

Jackson finds smart ways to connect the topic with the narrative structure: As the story goes on, the whole text feels more and more fragmented, as if the story was blowing up into the readers face, leaving behind bits and pieces of scattered narrative material. And there's a structural connection to music: The book is composed of a novel as an A-side and a short story as a B-side, the latter telling a part of the story with the protagonists in slightly different roles ("B-sides. They're the tunes where the bands bury their secrets."). 

There is also a whole web of references and ideas connected to rifles which culminates in a seriously scary hunting scene in a forest that becomes a meditation on the nature of human cruelty - if the reader is afraid to get hit by a bullet, a segment is extremely well done.

While the characters we meet all have complex psychological problems (mental health being an issue in many mass shootings), the idea expressed by Xenie that at the bottom of the shootings might be some kind of purge, intended to free the world of mediocre musicians and to be a measure against the commodification of music, points to totalitarian ideology - Islamist extremism, fascism, white supremacy, you name it, all of these belief systems also aim to get rid of an imagined enemy in order to "purify" society. 

That Xenie sympathizes with this idea could be an interesting part of the story, but remains underexplored. The same is true for the parts discussing the human fascination with control and violence and the question of a possible connection between the state of modern rock music and violence: "Perhaps they (the shooters) represent the true essence of the audience He simply refers to them as fans." - this could mean all kinds of things, but when dealing with such a topic, this degree of ambiguity can make a reader very uncomfortable.

On top of that, the occult plays an important role, as well as singing birds and suicide - there is just a little too much going on, with the consequence that the story loses focus: The reader is offered ideas, but what follows from them? 

A daring and provocative novel, and overall an ambiguous experience. But maybe Vernon Subutex, 1 (which I LOVE) ruined me for that kind of book! :-)
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