EW Description: “In the late 1950s, the real-life Brown siblings were a smash success on the country scene, but enduring fame eluded them. Bass’ twangy, heartfelt novel gives a fictionalized account of how they fell through the cracks.”
As with the popular biopics “Walk the Line,” “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” this falls in the vein of stories about country singers who have faced adversity in their lives. However, this is a story about The Browns, a family trio popular in the 1950s and 60s that did not last in the public consciousness the way Johnny Cash or Loretta Lynn did. This is a shame because they’re really good. I included a video below to a performance of them singing “Would You Care?”
Maxine, Jim Ed, and Bonnie Brown were raised in Poplar Bluff, Arkansas and came from deep poverty. Their dad was an alcoholic. Their younger brother died in an accident. Yet through all their problems, they had each other and they had their music. Eventually, they started getting local gigs to sing together and later got signed by a producer who pretty much screwed them over. They left that producer and went to another one, but fame was taking its toll on them. Bonnie was happily married to a man named Brownie after a love affair with Elvis. Jim Ed was starting to settle down. But Maxine was hungry for fame and would do anything to keep going.
The story switches back and forth between the past and the present. We see how the Browns built up their music. We see them at the height of their fame. Then we see them starting to descend. In the present, we mainly see Maxine who is clinging to the hope that she still has fans and people still care about her music. All she wants is to be remembered.
Though the Browns are real people, this is a fictional account of what happened to them. Bass does a terrific job of capturing the essence of classic country music. He writes in a very matter-of-fact manner about the family’s beginnings. He doesn’t try to dramatize the poverty or anything about their life. He just tells a story and lets the characters speak for themselves.
This is a really terrific novel and I highly recommend it to anyone, especially those who are fans of classic country music.