Friday 24 July 2020



Dance Prone by David Coventry     {Reviewed by STELLA}
Remember those gigs when your body was a sledgehammer slamming itself any which way and your aural senses were overwhelmed in the best hedonistic way, where the dance floor was small and cramped, where sometimes you ducked a fist and danced on. The opening lines of David Coventry’s new novel, Dance Prone, gives us the viewpoint of Con, the lead singer of a post-punk band in mid-80s America, watching the chaos unfold. Con is up for it, pushing to the edge of control, looking for perfection in chaos with his band, Neues Bauen. Yet like Coventry's first novel, The Invisible Mile, the setting isn’t exactly the theme. His brilliant debut took out the best first book at the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards in 2016, picked up for international publication and translated into numerous languages. Dance Prone looks set for a similar trajectory if the writing is anything to go by. This is the best New Zealand book I have read in a long time, and one of the most affecting novels about trauma, memory and its fallout, where language, pace and tension are expertly pitched and the chaotic music scene notches the decibels up to a level to absorb you in this world. Though it’s not all high intensity. The reflective passages, descriptions of people and place keep us anchored, and the dark humour keeps us amused, even when the psychological aspects of Con’s story threaten to flood our senses. We meet Con over several distinct periods in his life (between the 80s when he is a young man and 2020 when he is in his early 50s) as he intersects with his past band-mates and re-engages, or attempts to re-engage, with pivotal incidents. Not far in, we are beset by a shocking incident. It is wholly unexpected to the reader as it is to Con. Suddenly violence is very near and very real. This incident sets off a trigger of actions and inactions from Con and a crazy reaction from Tone, his kiwi bandmate. As Tone recovers in the hospital and the band tours the dives and front lounges of fans, Con finds himself split in two — before and after — and bereft of explanation and knowledge. Here we start to dig into the themes of denial and memory, or the erasure of fact. In the desert, appropriately, at an indie music gig complete with existential philosophy, this all comes to a head. As the story moves back and forth in time, the action and telling unfold alongside Con’s awareness. As he hides from the truth, the truth is hidden from the reader. What happens in Phoenix is only revealed by a scratchy video of the band’s last gig seen by Con in Marrakech in 2019, where he is searching for Tone, now living in the remote mountains with a group of artist-activists. Add to this a sweet romance, some great riffs on bands, the indie scene and philosophical rants, seemingly senseless behaviour and cravings for artistic perfection, and you have a deft and nuanced novel. And Coventry can write. Each sentence places you where you want to be, each conversation adds another dimension and the plot unfolds with a tension that keeps the bowstring taut and rewards with the aim of the arrow. Intelligent, intimate and raw, Dance Prone is stunning.

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