Aficionados of pop at the Living Room and Pete’s Candy Store may recognize Liz Moore from venues other than the soft yellow of the book- review page. A talented singer-songwriter, Moore has been performing in New York City venues since her days as a Barnard College student. More recently, she has set her guitar aside to experiment with a new medium: prose fiction. The Words of Every Song, Moore’s debut novel, capitalizes on her fine–arts education while also drawing extensively from her experience in the music industry.
Through a dozen interwoven vignettes, Moore guides her readers through the multifarious and murky waters of New York’s music scene. Characters ranging from Theo, the oft-reluctant executive, to Tia, the fattest member of a new girl band, weave in and out of Moore’s beautifully self-contained society in a manner reminiscent of Paul Thomas Anderson’s film Magnolia.
Unfortunately, a clever configuration of people and places does not a masterpiece make. Like any ensemble piece, The Words of Every Song is only as good as it parts, and Moore falters when she stretches beyond her capabilities. The breadth of her world corresponds to a disappointing lack of depth in her characters’ inner lives.
When Moore remains in her niche she thrills with her observant insider know-how. One laughs with her at the posturing of poseur-journalist Thoreau and cheers for Che as he gets his big break. But when she waxes philosophical through the eyes of Mike, an up-and-coming indie drummer whose high school girlfriend commits suicide, her pace and energy falter. Her wry and empathetic timbre disappears, only to be replaced with something resembling adolescent angst.
If The Words of Every Song were an album rather than a work of prose, it might sound like Swedish pop — music less formulaic than its American analog, but still lacking depth. Put simply, Moore’s debut is like a collection of songs an aficionado might pick up and enjoy but whose particular melodies he can never quite remember.