by Lavinia Ludlow
If gross-out humor has a tragic cousin, then Lavinia Ludlow is a master of the form. Her new novel, Single Stroke Seven, begins with the protagonist, Lillith, castrating a drug-crazed former coworker in self-defense and then blasts off into a stratospheric series of riffs on trying, failing, and trying again to follow one’s passion in a world dulled in equal measure by the nine-to-five demands of corporate adulthood and the empty nihilism of prolonged adolescence.
Adding to the drama is the fact that Lillith’s band, Dissonanz, includes three man-children who can’t get their act together long enough to rehearse so much as a single song, let alone get a gig. That they’ve been together for over a decade only adds to her ennui, and even side gigs—like playing for a post-Riot Grrrl punk band fronted by a psychopath—complicate her life exponentially.
Yet for all of its—grit, for lack of a better word—Single Stroke Seven is a novel with heart. The title refers to a basic drum pattern, but it’s also a metaphor for everything Lillith wants from life. Teaching percussion to earn extra money, she transcribes the pattern onto a sheet of manuscript paper for a young student who responds to the image with pleasure. “I like this one,” he says. “They’re all holding onto each other so no one’s lonely.”
Ultimately, this is what Single Stroke Seven is all about—searching for meaning in a soul-sucking world and hanging onto friends (even if they’re losers) because the alternative is unbearable.
Shelf UnboundContributing Editor Marc Schuster is the author of The Grievers, The Singular Exploits of Wonder Mom Party Girl, Don DeLillo, Jean Baudrillard, and the Consumer Conundrum, and, with Tom Powers, The Greatest Show in the Galaxy: The Discerning Fan’s Guide to Doctor Who. He is the editor of Small Press Reviews, and his work has appeared in numerous magazines and journals. Marc teaches writing and literature courses at Montgomery County Community College in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania.