Single Stroke Seven: By Lavinia Ludlow, 185 pgs. By Kurt Morris

Apr 19, 2016

Single Stroke Seven is a novel whose protagonist Lilith drums for a band called Disonanz. The year is 2015 and she lives with her three bandmates in a run-down shithole in San Jose, Calif. All the members of the band are in their late twenties and early thirties, and are struggling through quarter-life crises—working jobs they hate or having no work at all, lacking health care, and struggling to make a go of the one thing that they (or at least Lilith) want to do: make music.

The book starts with Lilith’s co-worker attacking her with a knife in a meth-fueled rage and her somehow grabbing the blade and cutting off his balls. This over-the-top genesis is a sign of things to come in Single Stroke Seven. Lilith is quickly blamed for the attack, arrested, and yet somehow keeps her job. Throughout the book it seems Lilith can’t catch a break. She’s constantly bleeding, throwing up, or having people verbally put her down (her boss, her mom, her “friends”). None of these experiences are written in a humorous manner; they seek to show how tough and difficult her life is.

That being said, most of these occurrences were Lilith’s own fault; she’s twenty-seven but seems to have the maturity of a sixteen year old. She wants to be an adult but goes on hijinks that always end badly. She’s dedicated herself to spend time with her bandmates (both the ones she lives with and the neighbors next door, for whose band she also drums), who are at best unsympathetic, and at worst, just horrible people: cruel, insensitive, and self-centered.

Lilith complains of having to work a shit job she hates (although the environment at her work place seems so absurd as to be cartoonish) but gave up playing with the San Francisco Symphony (although I’m assuming the mention that she made $100,000 to hit a tambourine was a joke) as well as other respected ensembles. Instead, she focused on Disonanz, a band that hadn’t played anywhere outside the Bay Area in their fourteen years of existence. This makes little sense—if you have to work a job you don’t want (the symphony), why not have it at least be in the field you’re interested in?

And yet I still kept on reading because I do love me some punk fiction. While the dialogue was consistently too smart for its own good (no one says things like, “Our gen’s supposed to leverage the economic collapse as an excuse to fuck up our parents’ momentum and chase our delusions”), I still held out hope that the characters would accomplish something with their lives and stop all their fucking around. By the end of the book Lilith appears to be heading in the right direction, but I couldn’t help but wonder where her common sense was that kept her from getting to that place a lot sooner. Kurt Morris (Casperian, PO Box 161026, Sacramento, CA 95816)