With catchy radio-friendly tunes like “The Break Up Song (They Don’t Write ‘Em Like That)”, “Jeopardy”, and “Reunited”, Greg Kihn was one of the kings of power pop in the 70s and 80s. An excellent craftsman of pop songs, he specialized in the type of music seemingly forever ignored by those who issue critical acclaim, and that’s a shame. While pop music can tread the thin line between fun and cartoonish, nostalgic and maudlin, and earnest and just plain sappy; Kihn’s tunes confidently walked those lines while elegantly avoiding the pitfalls.
Kihn has utilized that same attention to craftsmanship and pop sensibility in his most recent novel, “Rubber Soul”, a historical-fiction work framed around a coming of age story, with a dash of international crime thriller thrown in. It’s a lot to juggle, but the author’s clear understanding of each genre helps him create a nice summertime poolside page-turner.
As the title of the book would suggest, the historical-fiction part of the book revolves around the Beatles early in their career, largely focusing on the relationship between a fictional junk-dealing, American-music-enthusiast Bob Dingle and his fellow Liverpudlian, Beatle John Lennon.
One of the hallmarks of a good historical fiction is the writer’s ability to capture the voice of the subjects in a way that would believable to the casual reader, while being on point enough to satisfy the rabid enthusiast. While I’m much more the former than the latter, I feel safe in saying that Kihn successfully draws on his own experience as a musician, DJ, and Beatles fan to pull off a strong enough representation of the four lads to hit on both points. Another important aspect of this genre is to have the action feel plausible within the realm of what we think of as historically accurate, and while there are a couple of “Aw c’mon man” plot points, Kihn is mostly successful in this regard, possibly because he allows Bob’s coming of age story to parallel that of the Beatles more than it intersect with it, cleverly splitting Bob from his Beatle buddies at the turning points in their careers (for instance, as John, Paul, and crew take off for Hamburg, Bob signs up with the Merchant Marines and heads out to sea). The crime drama element acts as something of a B-feature. At the beginning of Rubber Soul we find Bob at the mercy of two thuggish older brothers who deliver frequent beatings, and his life remains peppered with violence through the book’s climax when, bringing all of the storylines together, adult Bob faces off against his brother Clive, now an international criminal and hitman.
Like I said, it’s a lot to juggle.
The important thing about Rubber Soul is that it is reminiscent of Greg Kihn’s musical catalog in that it is expertly crafted for fun. Whether you can swallow the fictional addition to the lore of the most famous band on earth or not, Kihn spins an expert yarn that’ll make you grin with enjoyment.