Review: Spiritualized by Victor Levine ★★★★

SpiritualizedSpiritualized is a raucous rock and roll mystery, part of Victor Levine’s Spec Time Trilogy series of books, which follow the exploits of Jon Cells, an aspiring rock star (based on a real person and real musician). Spiritualized acts as a kind of prequel to Vaporized, taking place four years before, over four days in 1978. This novel covers everything from coke deals, to cow mutilations, to New Age Buddhists, to rock stardom, to Hollywood filmmakers, and more in this spirited and literary epic novel.

As in Vaporized, the city is a character all its own. Whereas in Vaporized, it centers on New York City, Spiritualized takes the story to Boulder, Colorado. Levine clearly knows his territory inside and out, as there is interesting detail about Colorado’s history peppered throughout the novel. Being an epicenter of both the wild west and hippie ethos makes it the perfect location for this wild novel to unfold.

One of the issues with Vaporized is it tells several different stories that aren’t necessarily woven together. Though Jon Cells is a vibrant and engaging lead character, he is kind of peripheral to the main crux of the plot. Having now read Spiritualized, this structure is clearly by design. Levine’s aim is more a snapshot of a place and characters’ lives, i.e. more attuned to the rhythms of life. He’s writing a big-picture narrative, akin to Dos Passos’ USA in Boulder, Colorado. Levine is concerned with conveying the history of a place through a cast of several characters, and doesn’t get too cute with weaving the stories together in an overly neat, and unrealistic, package.

However, though Spiritualized does connect the different stories together more than its predecessor, at times it feels like three different novels running concurrently, which doesn’t always work to its advantage. This literary construction would be fine if each section were equally riveting. The most fun material is when it’s focused on Jon Cells, following the down and out, disgruntled rock star-in-waiting. There are great scenes about band practice, discovering synthesizers (relatively new in 1978), and hearing Kraftwerk for the first time. As a music producer himself, Levine’s affection for his characters shines through here, more than it does in the sections about FBI agents and drug dealers. A book centered entirely around John Cells would be very effective, as he is the most urgent and fully-realized character.

Another issue dragging down the narrative is the amount of dialog. Though it’s wholly comprehensive and true to life, there is a fair bit of dialog that could have been left out of the novel without affecting the story’s breadth or scope. An example, we get to read someone’s entire answering machine message, which is not entirely necessary.

Aside from these criticisms, Spiritualized is an entertaining and epic ride, which should appeal to anyone who likes a good rock and roll novel with a side of crime, and other assorted lunacy. It’s certainly a good companion piece to Vaporized, making Levine’s Spec Time Trilogy an ambitious and satisfying read.

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