Dead Rock Stars is a short novel by Saskatoon author Wes Funk, a story about a homosexual record store owner named Jack who is none too pleased to be called back to his tiny hometown after the death of his father. Jack spent 18 years in that town, left as soon as he graduated, and didn’t really look back. In returning to the place he grew up, he must face his past, as well as his future.
Without hyperbole, Funk has done an amazing job here — I was so enraptured that I read the entire book in one sitting. It is a tightly written and well-paced story with a protagonist that you instantly care about and with. I may not be gay, but I can certainly sympathize with Jack’s plight — he is an outsider, something we can all identify with, no matter who we are. Anyone who says they can’t take anything from this character is a damned liar.
One of the best things you can do in a piece of fiction to capture the audiences attention is to have ‘story questions,’ meaning, dropping hints of information that raise a question for the reader. ‘What happened to Jack’s first lover?’ ‘Why didn’t they leave town together?’ Story questions engage the reader, and Funk uses them brilliantly here, drawing you in until he’s ready to answer these questions in his narrative.
Aptly, Dead Rock Stars is also filled with music references, reminding me a bit of a Nick Hornby novel. Funk handles them well — he doesn’t try and shoehorn references in that don’t fit the story for the sake of name dropping. My only complaint about the book is that Funk references Nickelback in a positive light, which I cannot abide. But that is one small issue in one of the best pieces of Saskatchewan literature I’ve read in a long time. In fact, it was one of the most enjoyable reads I’ve had in awhile — it feels so cool to read a description of a small town gas station, how it feels to grow up gay in the SK, or other things we live with and take for granted.
Wes Funk and I have had a few conversations about what I call “grain elevator lit”, which is often what fiction about Saskatchewan has to be about for editors to take it seriously. I hate this. I want to read regional stories that speak to me; stories that recall my modern, urban Saskatchewan experiences — not a dusty, depression era story about a grain elevator. If you submit stories to certain unnamed publications that read more like Chuck Palanhiuk than Sinclair Ross, you can expect that rejection letter in the mail post-haste. The old guard needs to move over to make way and support some younger voices in the lit world (Though I actually do love Sinclair Ross, FYI…but you get my drift).
Funk has successfully captured both urban and small town Saskatchewan, without having to sound like he’s writing from the early 1900s. His voice is modern and eclectic, still digging into those prairie experiences that make Saskatchewan what it is, but in a fresh, modern tone. Our regional fiction is so important to maintaining our cultural and artistic identity — we need more young firebrands like Funk.
Dead Rock Stars is self-published, and Funk has done a great job so far of getting the word out. It’s not easy being an indie artist, and he throws his soul into it in a way I really respect. You can probably find him at readings around the province and you can catch his Shaw Cable show “Lit Happens” (look for the Craig Silliphant episode!). Funk has written, published, and pimped this book on his own terms, which is hugely courageous. Especially when you consider that the book is about a gay man in a province that still has a lot of people that are living in the homophobic dark ages, pretending they’re comfortable with the whole thing, but making their stupid Brokeback Mountain jokes. Anyway, Funk stirred up a lot in me with this book and I can’t wait to read more of his work. I recommend that you check out Dead Rock Stars as well.
CFCR Board Member