Sunday, September 1, 2013

Ray's Reviews: The Last Refrain by John Abbott

"The Last Refrain" (Sweatshoppe Publications, $14.99) by former Lansing resident John Abbott is an intriguing slice-of-life novel that focuses on an arduous summer tour of "Shiloh Red", a rock and roll band.
Based out of Hammond, IN, the five-person band features four dysfunctional family members: Ken, the band's alcoholic leader, Brianna, his wife and two teenagers, Lucas and Dana.
Griff,  a talented lead guitarist and songwriter, was in the band when they had an earlier hit record; he's known Brianna since high school.
The self-published paperback is told from numerous differing viewpoints; the author deftly captures a wide variety of emotions and attitudes.
Ken is trying to get a new record contract for the group; when it doesn't come through, he lies to the band members, with unexpected results.
The band is scheduled to perform at numerous Midwest county fairs, starting with Lake Odessa; the tour is strenuous but the group gains momentum.
Ken is trying to stay away from alcohol; he's writing new songs. Griff is sometimes high but performing brilliantly. The group gets a big glowing write-up in Rolling Stone. 
Despite their success and growing crowds, there are other problems; tempers flare, emotions bubble over and assorted relationships become strained.
As you'd expect in this type of novel there's lots of drinking, sex and drug usage, but Abbott smoothly combines these aspects into a mostly compelling tale.
There are many scenes at bars and fairgrounds; the challenges of travel, scheduling and dealing with excited fans are well presented.
Unfortunately, the conclusion isn't completely believable; the gritty novel would have flowed more smoothly if the author used shorter paragraphs to maintain the reader's interest.
Abbott graduated from East Lansing High School and later got degrees from Michigan State University and Western Michigan University.
He teaches writing at Kalamazoo Valley Community College and at Western, where he served as assistant fiction editor for "The Third Coast", their literary journal.
Now living in Kalamazoo, the author grew up in the Lansing area, changing his last name from Wilensky when he married.
Abbott has published many short stories and poems. His chapbook "Near Harmony" was released earlier this year by Flutter Press. He's currently working on a second novel.
The authors website is

Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing's Curious Book Shop, 
has reviewed Michigan books and crime novels regularly since 1987.

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