Is Daisy Jones gorgeous? Oh, my word, yes. We know because Taylor Jenkins Reid reminds us every few pages of “Daisy Jones & The Six,” the story of a 1970s California rock band that breaks big, then spontaneously combusts due not to artistic differences or overdoses but sexual heat between the musicians.
So, it’s a work of fiction. Also, Fleetwood Mac without the shawls and attention to the bottom line.
Daisy is gorgeous, a talented singer and songwriter, a rock-and-roll animal with the drug-ingesting abilities of Hunter S. Thompson, and a reckless, shameless, braless abandon (so braless) toward almost everything. “I wore what I wanted when I wanted. I did what I wanted with who I wanted. And if somebody didn’t like it, screw ’em.” Of a wedding, she snorts, snorting being a beloved pastime, “I regret the marriage, but I do not regret that dress.”
Daisy meets her soul match in Billy Dunne, lead singer of the Six, a recovering addict and alcoholic, married, a father and, yes, gorgeous. He has a Jaggeresque stage presence. How do we know? Reid tells us.
Reid’s twist is constructing her sixth novel as an oral history, complete with lyrics, album photo shoots and atmospheric period details. The structure serves her well — except when it doesn’t.
Oral histories work when the voices are known or a glossary is attached. They’re less successful when every witness is fictional. Introducing six band members simultaneously might not have been the wisest move. The reader can’t keep them straight. Ultimately, the reader may not care, with some characters no deeper than Petulant Drummer, Bassist With Barely a Pulse and Best Friend Who Seems Like Donna Summer.
Is the book riddled with cliches? Check. Twists the reader can spot chapters in advance? You betcha. A plot not nearly as fascinating as the backstory of Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours”? True. (What a novel that would make.) Groan-inducing quotes? Daisy: “It seemed like there wasn’t anything about me, any truth that I could tell him, that he wouldn’t accept. Acceptance is a powerful drug. And I should know because I’ve done ’em all.”
Yet, here’s the thing: “Daisy Jones & The Six” works. It’s big dumb fun. Like a vat of movie popcorn saturated in butter-flavored topping, you inhale the thing against all better judgment. It might make for terrific guilty-pleasure television. Sure enough, Reese Witherspoon has snapped up “Daisy Jones.” She’s struck a co-production deal with Amazon for a 13-episode series. (Amazon founder and CEO Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
The book could have benefited from more music-industry dysfunction and less “Everything I loved about the world, Daisy loved about the world. Everything I struggled with, Daisy struggled with. We were two halves.” Reid delivers a love story more rooted in the pulp-romance genre than rock-and-roll. Given the music industry’s notorious sexism, she deserves credit for creating female characters who are more self-aware and determined than the foolish men around them.
Karen Heller is a features writer for The Washington Post.
By Taylor Jenkins Reid
Ballantine Books. 368 pp. $27