Loose Gravel, By Ginny Fanthome, 307 pgs.

The late ’80s and early ’90s were a very different time. These were extremely dark ages—before cell phones, social media, and instant access to information were the norm. Touring as a punk band back then was a different experience. You might talk to promoters just a handful of times over expensive land lines before arriving at the show. It was commonplace to drive around lost for hours looking for a pay phone (and exact change) to find the venue, which you usually knew little to nothing about. Worst of all, it seemed like the AC was shot in any van that was remotely affordable/accessible. This was enough to drive almost any “chaos rock’n’roller” a little bit haywire.

Author Ginny Fanthome’s novel Loose Gravel tells the fictional story of the band Spooge, their misadventures on the road, and their regularly volatile relationships with one another. Fanthome played drums in several punk bands back in the day, and unsurprisingly, Loose Gravel seems to focus on the experience of Spooge’s female drummer, Sammy. On top of the unending headaches of being on the road pre-internet, pre-civilization, Sammy must navigate her way past scumbag after scumbag, including promoters, audience members, and members of other bands—even members of her own band.

Indeed, day after day, show after show, half of the band Spooge (namely bassist Lion and guitarist Markus) reveal themselves to be unapologetically macho douchebags: violent, arrogant, and womanizing. This is a part of the story I can’t relate to, but maybe that’s the point. In this sense, reading Loose Gravel is a little bit like watching The Sopranos, in that you find yourself rooting for truly unsavory characters—until they remind you who you’re dealing with. Having these anti-heroes and deeply flawed characters gives the story depth and excitement. Fanthome’s characters stomp and stammer through a cyclone of secrets, lies, deception, love, camaraderie, and ultimately redemption. None of it is pretty, nor is it intended to be.

The author skillfully pulls it all together through the occasional candid and sincere conversations in which the gruff characters bond and show their humanity by bearing their secrets, fears, and dreams. These conversations between Fanthome’s characters remind me of the long discussions we would have back in the ’80s on the hour-long car ride back from Miami when we’d go down there to see shows. For some reason, having just moshed like a psychotic caveman to, say, The Accüsed always put us in the mindset to really cut through the bullshit and share our souls with one another. The car ride back was always as important as the show itself. –Buddha (Self-published, ginnyfbooks.myshopify.com)