Never Mind Nirvana
by Mark Lindquist
Published by Villard
256 pages, 2000
Buy it online
Reviewed by Alison Basye
After a 10-year hiatus from writing novels, Mark Lindquist finally returns with his third work, Never Mind Nirvana. His previous two books, Sad Movies (1987) and Carnival Desires (1990), both followed bored young adults in Southern California. During his decade out of the spotlight, Lindquist earned a law degree and became a deputy prosecutor in Pierce County, Washington, south of Seattle. However, his new career has had little influence on the plot of Never Mind Nirvana, except in the fact that his chief protagonist also happens to be a deputy prosecutor. As in his earlier tales, the characters here are full of youth and ennui, and they spend more time chasing skirts and getting drunk than they do relating what could have been a thrilling court case.
Lindquist's grim but occasionally amusing story focuses on the regrets and missed opportunities of Pete Tyler, a self-deprecating, 36-year-old Seattleite. Even before the end of the first chapter, Tyler has established himself as a hopeless loser, a guy who's quick to point out the worst and unable to think beyond his own desires. Once a famous musician with a Seattle rock band, Tyler has spent 12 years away from the stage, becoming both a county prosecutor and a relentless pursuer of sex, booze and love. His focus throughout Nirvana is on getting laid and he fills himself with increasing amounts of alcohol and nicotine as he struggles along in that quest.
But Tyler's past and present lives are suddenly flung together when he is assigned to defend a young woman who has accused a popular local musician of rape. This storyline hearkens back to a real date-rape case that occurred within the Seattle rock community in 1999. Although that earlier case was based on hearsay and, therefore, never went to trial, in Lindquist's yarn, the sensational charges do get an airing in court, suggesting that fact and fiction will be blended to present the trial that never was.
Tyler's involvement raises a number of important questions: Given his own dubious, drunken dating practices, can he honestly prosecute a date-rape case? And will his adolescent fondness for the glamour of the rock 'n' roll world further taint his energy in pursuing the matter? It is somewhat unclear why Tyler, who runs in the same circles as the victim and assaulter, is assigned to this litigation in the first place. He seems like a risky choice and at one point it appears that he might even have been set-up for a fall. Yet neither a set up nor the what-if aspect of this story is given a chance to develop. Regrettably few chapters are devoted to the trial and it devolves into an almost unrelated subplot that allows us our only glimpses of Tyler as a self-confident, focused man.
About the same time he is assigned to the case, Tyler decides to get married -- though not to anyone in particular and not with much serious forethought. He boldly announces to all those around him his wish to be wed, insisting that finding a life-partner is no different than forming a band or obtaining a law degree. Of course, his mating plans go nowhere, and Tyler -- increasingly obsessed with his own sorrows and desires -- comforts himself by continuing to craft his sophomoric dating practices, which never involve much more than the most available booze and some carefully selected seduction music.
Despite his lack of understanding of women and his sense of being a victim, Tyler's quest for love can be bittersweet and tender. At the beginning of one bad evening, for instance, he is stuck in his tracks before the beauty of his town's most familiar icon, the Jetsonsesque Space Needle, and feels inspired by the comfort it brings him. He determines to change his life, to begin anew. But his promises to himself -- -to quit smoking, avoid the local bars and raise his standards for women -- are empty and he quickly falls off the wagon. Nirvana's author recounts this with a wry sense of humor; yet Tyler's lack of self-awareness is more often maddening than funny.
The importance of music in Tyler's life is a continuing theme in this story. A pop-culture dinosaur, his evenings are often spent listening to lonesome songs that create a sort of pathetic soundtrack to accompany his empty life. Never content to enjoy an entire album, Tyler positions himself in front of his stereo, scotch in hand, skipping from sad track to sadder track, continually feeding his morose mood:
"Let It Be" is followed by R.E.M, Life's Rich Pageant, circa 1986, with "These Days," "Fall On Me," and "Cuyahoga." Then he pulls out Alice Cooper's Greatest Hits, circa 1975, and listens to "I'm Eighteen," "No More Mr. Nice Guy," and the chestnut "Teenage Lament '74." Next to Cooper is the Clash, London Calling, circa 1979. By nine-thirty Pete is on his third glass of Johnny and Pearl Jam's first album, circa 1991.
There are pages of similar stuff throughout the book, as Tyler's separate obsessions with the past, list-making and avoidance increase.
Lindquist offers some small pleasures here for Seattle readers, or anyone else who's familiar with or fascinated by the city's bar scene, his story gliding through accurate descriptions of the uninspired leftovers from Seattle's 1990s grunge music era. Told from the viewpoint of one local speaking to another, Nirvana tosses about the names of local radio stations, bars, landmarks and neighborhoods as though every reader should know them intimately:
He turns and walks up University toward the fifty-foot scrap metal sculpture of Hammering Man at the Seattle Art Museum entrance. Across First Avenue the lusty marquee reads: Spring is here and love is in the bare.
Mark Lindquist does a good job of portraying a lost and lonesome bachelor, and makes dead-on observations about Seattle's current scene. Never Mind Nirvana will likely find fans among rock musicians and any young people who are attracted to empty lifestyles or men of underdeveloped maturity. Don't expect to be uplifted, however, or to find a tidy Hollywood ending here. Tyler -- like his court case -- is left hanging in limbo, unable to follow his common sense and stymied by the foolish desires of his heart. | July 2000
Alison Basye is the assistant editor of Seattle Magazine.