Kirkus Reviews

September 26, 2023

Bungalow Terrace


Members of a rock mega-band wrestle with drug addiction, scandals, gay sexuality, and a manipulative record label while trying not to lose their lifelong friendship in this sprawling show-biz novel.

Monroe’s yarn follows four boys who live in a nameless American town and attend St. Cecilia’s Catholic School, where they suffer savage beatings from a brutal math teacher but get mentored by kindly music instructor Sister Pat, who nurtures their talents. After high school, the quartet’s garage band, called The Sapphires, is spotted by Colin Anderson, the sharklike head of Sea Glass Records. Colin brings the musicians to New York City and shepherds them into the big time and a haphazard name change to the titular street where they grew up. The narrative follows the band members’ intertwined lives: Vince DiPaulo, the group’s leader, who chafes at Colin’s control and gets heavily into pot, LSD, and speed; sexy front man Steve Russell, whose constant womanizing strains his marriage to a Hollywood starlet; backup vocalist and songwriter Dave Corcoran, who marries Shelia Somers, not knowing that the child she is carrying is by her rapist and not him; and guitarist Kevin Bennett, a squeaky-clean but deeply closeted gay man who lives in dread that his proclivities will be discovered and ruin his career. The novel deepens these complications as the 1960s progress. The band undergoes several makeovers, moving from blue-suited doo-wop to bell-bottomed psychedelia; Vince enters a downward spiral of drug abuse that makes Colin and Steve maneuver to kick him out of the group; Dave is shaken by a family tragedy that sends him on a spiritual quest to India; and a blackmailer reveals Kevin’s secret to Colin, who has him committed to a conversion-therapy rehab unit, where he endures torturous aversion treatments.

Monroe, a former casting director, paints a complex, nuanced portrait of the entertainment industry and the personalities that inhabit it. (Colin, for example, is a domineering jerk, but his keen eye for what works in pop music underlies the band’s success.) The author’s prose is punchy, colorful, and evocative, whether he’s describing Vince’s first acid trip—“He floated about the room, and the physical contours of his body began to disappear and meld into the pigments.…Everything that was concrete and real seemed illusive and fake, and everything illusory and unseen began to take on form and shape”—or aversion therapy. (“Screaming through his clenched teeth, Kevin felt like he was being incinerated alive, as every muscle in his body constricted and the jolt of electricity pulsated through his hands and his private parts.”) But Monroe also gets at the hidden, achingly familiar psychological forces that drive his characters—even a hanger-on, as when Shelia’s mother reflects on the poverty that would be relieved if her reluctant daughter would marry Dave: “It sat like a weight in the pit of her stomach, and her body shook with the recognition of it. Images of scarcity and lack played out in her mind’s eye like the endless reels of a bad horror movie, and no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t silence the relentless voice of doom that echoed in her head.” As lurid as their excesses can be, the author grounds his players in motivations that feel universal.

A richly textured, entertaining tale of musicians struggling with their demons.