Review: The Price of Admission

By Nathaniel Katz

Shults, Sylvia. The Price of Admission. Dark Continents Publishing, 2011. Paperback, USD $15.99; Kindle, USD $2.99. ISBN: 978-0-9831603-2-8.

Great music transcends time. We are still moved by the compositions of Beethoven, Bach and countless others today. Why, then, cannot the musicians themselves transcend time? And, once they have transcended time, I suppose they might as well be able to find love. That, at least, is what Max gets up to.

Jessica arrives at an amusement park with her boyfriend and is struck by the presence of Max, the lead guitarist in the cover band that’s playing. She and her boyfriend then enter a haunted house, which transports her back in time to the 1920s. There she meets Max again. Jessica goes home with him. He proceeds to spend the novel’s middle giving us his life story, beginning with his mortal youth in early 18th-century Russia. That concluded, we sit about in the 1920s for a bit, there is some great sex, and then Jessica starts to think about going home.

Despite all of the happenings within it, Price of Admission is a book without conflict. None of the characters are striving for anything. For the most part, they sit about and listen to music or talk about not much. When they realize they want something, it’s given to them mere pages later and never as a result of their own efforts. Max wants to be a musician, but is not allowed to? Poof! Magic talisman! Jessica is lost in the 1920s? No worries: Max is crossing the street just over there. Now, Jessica wants to go home? Well, I’m sure there was at least one German physicist with a passion for the violin that could get her back in a jiffy….

Many of the book’s scenes fall apart under scrutiny and key plot points aren’t exempt from this. Let’s look at Jessica and Max’s first meeting. As I mentioned previously, he is playing lead guitar at the time. Jessica’s “heart skips a beat” (p. 12). Their eyes meet. At this point, he gets off the stage and walks towards her. We are told that he is “still playing” (p. 13), but I’m going to have to admit to some confusion about how one can play guitar while walking through a crowd and away from the amplifier that the guitar is presumably plugged into. Then he calmly says, “Hi. I’m Max,” (p. 13) somehow managing to hold a conversation despite the whole concert going on around him. To end it all on a high note, Jessica then remembers that she has a boyfriend, so, instead of giving Max her name and number, she decides to imitate a chicken: “Call me chicken. Buck-buck!” (p. 14)

Still, Shults does write with passion. Her descriptions of music convey her deep affection for the art form and show a respectable level of technical skill. Every once in a while, she even seems very much in on the joke of the novel’s silliness. Amidst Max’s rapturous descriptions of a concert, we get the admirably cheeky tidbit that one musician plays as if she had “swallowed a violin” (p. 60). These pokes at the premise can be surprisingly endearing. After travelling back in time, Jessica wonders if she can beg sanctuary from her grandparents. But then she realizes that won’t work: “She’d have to find her great-grandparents. Her grandmother would’ve been only ten years old in 1927” (p. 23).

Despite its occasional passion and fun, Price of Admission was too tensionless and perpetually out of left field for me to enjoy. Music may be able to transcend time. Maybe even Max can do it. But I rather doubt that this book will.

You can buy The Price of Admission from Amazon or directly from the publisher.

About Nathaniel Katz

Nathaniel Katz is an editorial assistant at Innsmouth Free Press. He has reviewed for Strange Horizons and his own blog, The Hat Rack (evilhat.blogspot.com). When not reading and reviewing fiction, he writes it. His stories have appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Plasma Frequency Magazine, the anthology Historical Lovecraft, and elsewhere.

Nathaniel KatzReview: The Price of Admission

7 Comments on “Review: The Price of Admission”

  1. J. Keith Haney

    Paula, that sounded uniquely painful to have read through. In many ways, it reminds too much of a dud book I pulled from Hard Case Crime called “Dutch Uncle”. Too much of that novel was the same as what you’re describing, doing nothing except maybe drifting. I mean, c’mon, you want to, at least, work at it A LITTLE if you want the book to be interesting.

      1. J. Keith Haney

        My mistake, Paula. I see now that Nathaniel did the job. Apologies to you as well! In any case, every I said before goes for you.

  2. Nathaniel Katz

    No worries, J. The book was indeed rather painful to read through, though the continuous absurdities did create a kind of “I wonder what on earth could possibly come up next…” feel. As for “Dutch Uncle,” I haven’t read it. Most of what I read from Hard Case Crime’s been quite good; pity that one failed so badly.

    1. J. Keith Haney

      Yeah, I know! Hard Case Crime typically puts out some damn fine product, don’t they? I highly recommend everything that has Max Allan Collins’ name attached to it (the Quarry novels especially are a master course on how to write a spare, interesting novel). Other personal faves are Lawrence Block’s “Grifter’s Game” (the most twisted romance I’ve ever read this side of “Double Indemnity”), Ed McBain’s “The Gutter And The Grave” (featuring an alcoholic detective who fully acknowledges his problem and is unrepentent about doing anything about it), and Robert Bloch’s double set of “Shooting Star” (his only pure detective novel that I ever heard of) and “Spiderweb”. Any you’d recommend for me, Nathaniel?

  3. Nathaniel Katz

    My favorite Hard Case Crime book is definitely David Goodis’ “The Wounded and the Slain.” I am something of a Goodis fanatic, so perhaps I can’t be too objective there. Then again, it was the Hard Case edition of “The Wounded and the Slain” that first introduced me to his writing. I’d recommend it if you haven’t ever read Goodis; his books are downbeat as all hell but are beautifully so.

    1. J. Keith Haney

      “Grifter’s Game” and “The Gutter and The Grave” weren’t exactly sweetness and light, but they were still damn fine. I’ll look into “The Wounded and the Slain” when I get a chance. Thanks for the recommendation!

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