DAISY JONES AND THE SIX
By Taylor Jenkins Reid
Ballantine, $29.95, 368 pages
In her sixth novel, Taylor Jenkins Reid tells the story of the renowned ‘70s rock band Daisy Jones and The Six, all the way up to their infamous split. Never heard of them? That’s because they are entirely Ms. Reid’s invention. Little does it matter, because by the end of the book, readers’ investment in a band whose music they’ve never heard on the radio, never danced to, never cried to, never seen themselves in is astonishing.
In the “author’s note” of “Daisy Jones and The Six,” a fictional oral historian informs us that what we are about to read is the product of eight years of interviews with members of the band, their friends and industry professionals. The band have, before now, never commented on their time together or their split. The in-story author also informs us that we are entering the Rashomon zone of personal memory, and that when it comes to discrepancies between accounts, “The truth often lies, unclaimed, in the middle.”
Over the course of the novel, entirely through text extracted from these interviews, we read of the lonely childhood of Daisy Jones, how The Six was formed, the drug problems of lead singer Billy Dunne, and how Daisy Jones came to join the band. Quickly, the narrative pushes us toward the possible love story of Daisy and Billy, and though other members of the band have their own personal challenges to face, Daisy and Billy’s relationship stays front and center. We follow it through the creation of the band’s album “Aurora,” after which the band splits, for reasons unknown until now.
The women in this book are wonderfully developed. Not just Daisy Jones, the slightly too perfect, ever detestable stereotype of a drug addled princess whose success seems inevitable. But also, Billy Dunne’s wife, Camila, the incredible rock and roller Karen, and Daisy’s friend Simone. Ms. Reid shows women’s passion for art, and their drive to be taken seriously, even when life and music become dangerously intertwined. It would be easy to rely on the tired stereotype of catty women to add drama to this story, but Ms. Reid reliably shows women lifting each other up, even when they are in conflict. Even if reality falls short of this standard, it’s nice to see in fiction.
Were this an actual oral history, we might have some criticisms of the methodology of deliberate punch lines and withholding information. Ms. Reid gets a lot of humor out of juxtaposing slightly differing versions of the same story line by line. Documentaries that try so hard to mask the director’s curation behind the camera, putting everything in the voices of the subjects, should be a red flag for any critical reader. The in-story author lets us know from the beginning that these interviews were conducted individually, but it still becomes easy to read these as conversations and responses when presented in this way, creating meaning and implications that only the in-story author could be responsible for. What we are hearing, if we go with the story’s setup, is not the truth according to Daisy Jones and The Six, but the truth according to the person who spliced together eight years of interviews into a single book.
The main draw of the novel is the development of the characters, the romance and the mystery of this in-story author. However, there is no shortage of storytelling specifically through music. What the characters think about the music, the production of that music and how music gets made while life goes on, are all treated beautifully in the text. The lyrics themselves are provided for readers, and while song lyrics always sound a bit hokey detached from their songs, providing the context of their creation allows them to recover some dignity. This is not a book that incidentally includes music. It is a story told through sound.
It takes a lot of trust in readers to tell an entire story through voices in this way. There are definitely sections in which the characters veer solidly into prose, but for the most part, Ms. Reid maintains very casual speech. She has a talent for voices that reads clearly off the page, and even without many cues, it’s easy to hear each of her characters.
Nevertheless, this novel in many ways feels better suited to the formats it will be adapted into than to the pages of a book. As a full cast audio book, it feels like the best podcast you will ever listen to. Certainly, it will be a charming web series and is already in development. On the printed page, the story is lovely, but one wonders if this was the best way to tell a story so grounded in sound, be it music or voice. Even if only in a reader’s head, it’s a book that deserves to be heard.
• Tara Wilson Redd is the author of “The Museum of Us” (Wendy Lamb Books, 2018).