Chad Gayle,
Let It Be
(Bracket, 2013)

Here's an interesting assignment: Frame a story around the songs found on a classic record album. That's what Chad Gayle has done with Let It Be.

The action does not take place in 1970, at the time of the release of the final Beatles album and famous group break-up, however. Instead, it's nine full years later: musically, unfortunately, in the midst of the disco era. The setting is Amarillo, Texas, where members of one small family are doing their best to survive. Michelle and Bill Jansen are divorcing. Their children Pam and Joseph have moved with Michelle into a new-to-them city. Each individual has his or her own struggles to deal with and to resolve. For 10-year-old Joseph, it's finding his niche in the hierarchy established by the other local kids. For teenager Pam, it's discovering what she can get away with. For Bill, it's a dose of denial and settling scores. For Michelle, it's getting used to a new job and the possibility of dating and falling in love again. Let It Be is the album she puts on the turntable whenever she wants to feel good about herself and her stressful situation. The melodies take her back to a better and less complicated time.

So yes, it's a simple story, and one that could be considered to be a universal one. What makes this telling unique is its connection with the music. Each chapter is named for a song on the Let It Be album. And each chapter is told from the viewpoint of one of the main characters: sometimes in first person, sometimes in third; and sometimes in the present, sometimes in the future. Since the narrators' names aren't identified in the chapter headings, the reader has to get a few sentences in to decipher who's doing the talking. It doesn't take much effort, but you may find yourself going back and re-reading paragraphs and even whole chapters, again.

I have to admit that I wasn't a big Beatles fan back in the day. So while I still have a few greatest hits cassettes of the Fab Four, I don't own a copy of Let It Be. I had to borrow one from a local library as soon as I was finished reading this book. I thought it was necessary to get the full effect of the book. And it was. But listening to the album only raised questions for me.

While I applaud Gayle for the idea and the approach, I believe he didn't go far enough. Of the 12 songs on the album, only eight are used as chapter titles in the book. They are, in the order found on the recording: "Across the Universe," "I Me Mine," "Dig It," "Let It Be," "One After 909," "The Long & Winding Road," "For You Blue" and "Get Back." Each one has lyrics that seem to apply when placed against the plot. (Naturally, copyright laws being what they are, no lyrics appear in this book.) Even though you probably haven't read the book yet (otherwise, why would you be reading a review?), you can no doubt understand how "Let It Be" and "The Long & Winding Road" would work. Another great connection comes with "Across the Universe," and its refrain, "Nothin's gonna change my world." Talk about possible quiet desperation! Each character demonstrates some, here.

I was disappointed that four songs were left out. I think if you intend to use this premise as your framework, you should go for the whole enchilada. The four unused songs are "Two of Us," "Dig a Pony," "Maggie Mae" and "I've Got a Feeling." I don't think it would have taken too much manipulation to work these headings in, too. "I've Got a Feeling" could apply to nearly any situation. "Two of Us" features the continuing mantra, "On our way back home / We're on our way home / We're on our way home / We're going home." Definitely doable. "Dig a Pony" claims "All I want is you." This could be the theme song of either Bill, who is divorcing Michelle but still wants her, and Dan, the new love interest in her life. "Maggie Mae"? Well, I don't know. Someone with that name could be woven in as a one-scene, walk-on character.

For a first novel, this work is innovative. The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of the book, even though I don't especially like most of the characters. Without the album connection, this novel would have been merely a coming-of-age story for young Joseph. If all 12 songs had been used, it could have been a masterpiece. Gayle's approach does give us an added dimension and interaction of both the visual act of reading and the aural act of listening. However, no recommendations are made that each reader should also listen to the album. This direction should be included. And I have to say, this is the first time I have ever heard all of Let It Be, from front to back. I have to thank Gayle for leading me to it.

Those who like to dive into literary analysis could spend all day tearing this one apart. They could equate the four Jensens with the Beatles, and interloper Dan with Yoko Ono. Too bad those strands came out differently. I very much like the fact that "Let It Be" and "The Long & Winding Road" are the last two chapters in the book. The references are perfect and allow for the reader's (and Michelle's) introspection. Perhaps the album would have been even stronger if it had followed this logic, instead of ending with "For You Blue" and "Get Back." Odds are good that I'll think of this book whenever I hear any of these songs, from this point on. A good marketing strategy employed there, Gayle.

Overall, I think this is a slightly above average book that could have been a bit better. Now, the real challenge would be to think up a story that could go with The White Album. Ready? Game on.

[ visit the author's website ]

book review by
Corinne H. Smith

13 July 2013

Agree? Disagree?
Send us your opinions!

what's new