|COMING SEPTEMBER 28 2015!
... a comedy of parenting errors in which single father Vance Seagrove wakes up one morning to discover irrefutable proof that his teenage daughter has come of age. Anxious to protect Chloe from the emotional perils of growing up too fast too soon, Vance must confront the sexual hypocrisies of small-town life in Willoughby, Alabama— including his own.
Guiding him on his journey is a cast of strong women: his best friend and former lover, Campbell, whose bisexuality is a source of conflict with both her own overbearing father and ex-husband; his current girlfriend, Sadie, the aspiring Liz Phair-influenced songwriter whose fiery confidence Vance admires and envies; and Deb, the ex-wife whose unexpected reappearance in his daughter’s life sends him spiraling into self-destructive jealousy.
Central to understanding Chloe’s entry into adulthood is yet another iconic female, the Aphrodite of Knidos. As the first nude in Western art, this Greek masterpiece—an alabaster reproduction of which is the centerpiece of the statuary Vance is dedicated to preserving—symbolizes the thin line between objectification and self-possession, between eros and the erotic.
Raising Aphrodite is a funny and poignant exploration of the misadventures of manhood that celebrates the creativity of punk rock, the importance of art in a community, and the beauty of friendship between the sexes.
ACCORDING TO KIRKUS REVIEWS (April 30, 2015)
Reviewed by Felicia Seeburger
This comic novel traces the misadventures of a single dad and his teenage daughter as they navigate adolescent and middle-aged angst to the soundtrack of Alabama punk rock.
Vance Seagrove prides himself on being the cool dad. He's raised Chloe since her mother, Deb, moved to New York to act, finishing his Ph.D. in theater with Chloe in a baby swing. For the past 10 years, he's worked as personal assistant to Storm Willoughby, the richest man in town, and now, at his death, Storm has willed Vance a controlling stake in Macon Place, Storm's mansion, the grounds of which are a garden of Greco-Roman statuary. Storm's son, Mike, wants the place sold, but Vance wants to turn it into an arts center. If that isn't enough to worry about, Vance finds a used condom wrapper in Chloe's bedroom and becomes obsessed with reining in his 16-year-old daughter, relinquishing his "cool dad" title. Like so many protagonists, Vance confides in his gay best friend, Campbell, though she has problems of her own: she has to convince her ex-husband she's not a lesbian so he doesn't demand custody of their son. Campbell's father, Luther, is a renowned music producer now making a record for Sadie, Vance's heavily tattooed, pot-smoking 23-year-old girlfriend (see, he is cool!). Chloe is furious her father has become so unreasonable, though she tries to ignore him and get on with her teenage life: writing songs, starting a support website for a persecuted Balkans band (akin to Pussy Riot), and figuring out her relationship with Deb, who has decided to move back to Alabama and share custody with Vance.
The comedy occasionally runs broad and bawdy and the references feel a bit forced (a disastrous Liz Phair concert; an extended conversation about Andrea Dworkin's Intercourse), but Curnutt throws in enough fragile humanity to make Vance and Chloe's mutual journey to adulthood worthwhile.
ACCORDING TO FOREWORD REVIEWS (May 27, 2015)
With contemporary problems and topics, musical references, and spot-on dialogue, this novel is both relatable and humorous.
With a tagline like “A Contemporary Comedy of Parenting Errors about a Single Father, a Rock ‘n’ Roll Daughter, and the Elusive Dream of Friendship Between the Sexes,” there should be no mystery about Raising Aphrodite’s content. Despite its bulky title, Kirk Curnutt’s story is a believable, fast-paced, and amusing read.
Single father Vance has a teenage daughter—thus, tension and drama are inherent. The inevitability of boyfriends and sex throws him for a loop, however, and he seeks insight and advice from a cast of characters in small-town Alabama, including a lesbian best friend. Surrounded by close friends and informed by the music of female rockers, Vance’s quest is to impart wisdom and guidance to his kin while he seeks to get a new business venture off the ground. Complicating his life are everyday struggles like dwindling finances, self-doubt, and the search for understanding between the sexes.
There are a few layers to the story, including appreciation of classical Greek sculpture, political persecution of a foreign female rock band, and an ex-wife newly arrived to town. Throw in a looming teen battle of the bands, an adversarial business partner, and a private eye to lend a contemporary bent.
There’s a lot going on, but Curnutt keeps the story plausible with spot-on dialogue and realistic supporting characters. This supporting cast has depth and variety—these could be people you know. The first-person perspective shows Vance’s struggles, doubts, and thoughtful ruminations on females. With so many musical references to specific artists, songs, and messages, it seems music is a character in itself, adding to the believability of this frothy read.
Vance is an educated and enlightened man, yet he makes silly mistakes that land him in a few holes. Regardless of his flaws and foibles, he’s a likable character. The dialogue is a huge part of the story, but it is brisk and credible, and Curnutt sets up scenes with ease.
Raising Aphrodite is an easy read that is enjoyable for its realistic slice of life, complex male character, and musical references.
A FAIR AND BALANCED REVIEW BY DR. DON NOBLE FROM ALABAMA PUBLIC RADIO AND THE TUSCALOOSA NEWS
In Rogers and Hammerstein’s musical “Carousel,” Billy Bigelow, the erstwhile carousel barker, now married to Julie Jordan, is overjoyed when he learns he is to be a father. In the song “Soliloquy” he sings of his boy Bill. He’ll “teach him to wrestle and dive through a wave.” Bill might be a boxer or president.
Then Bigelow realizes: “What if he is a girl? What would I do with her? What could I do for her? A bum with no money. You can have fun with a son. But you gotta be a father to a girl.” “Dozens of boys pursue her, many a likely lad does what he can to woo her from her faithful dad.”
Bigelow is overwhelmed , and he has a wife to help him raise the child.
Vance Seagrove, PhD, the hero of “Raising Aphrodite,” however, is divorced, raising daughter Chloe as a single dad. Deb, Chloe’s mom, skipped out when Chloe was a baby. It is a difficult situation.
Seagrove is as conscientious a dad as the world could imagine.
He worries; he sacrifices; he communicates.
But, alas, the novel opens with these lines: “My daughter, Chloe, celebrated her sixteenth birthday by having sex with her boyfriend. I find this out the morning after when I discover a suspicious wrapper in her trash basket. It’s not a wrapper from an Alka Seltzer tablet or a Klondike Bar.”
Some “likely lad,” it seems, has pursued her and caught her!
Dad is horrified, among other reasons because he impregnated Deb on his own maiden voyage, so to speak, so he knows this kind of thing can happen.
Acutely conscious of setting a good example and creating a stable home life, there have been very few women in Seagrove’s life; nevertheless, this worshipper in the church of Phil Donohue, this androgynous, hyper-feminized, guilty, nearly-paralyzed- by-the-fear-of-his-own-testosterone male has, unfairly, a reputation in Willoughby, Alabama, a small town outside Montgomery, as a Lothario, an exploiter of women.
This unjust reputation was sparked when he was caught in flagrante delicto with 20-year-old Ardita Farnam, a waitress at Katfish Kountry. Not only was he 15 years older than Ardita—imagine that!—they are caught by her father on the floor of the Farnams’ lavishly decorated Alabama Room, a sanctum sanctorum in Alabama culture.
Because he is raising a girl alone, Seagrove is beyond sensitive to anything in himself that smacks of male chauvinism or gender prejudice, monitoring his language and second-guessing himself endlessly, wondering if he is “worthy of that thing called manhood.” He really works hard at it. He feels that “Men take, women are taken. Men get. Women get gotten.” He even reads theory by Andrea Dworkin –to oversimplify, all sex is rape—and there’s nothing more destructive to sensitive adult male confidence than that.
He muses, “I am humbled wondering how much hurt I may have caused over the last sixteen years of patting my own back for being a good dad.” Now there’s the farthest reach of self -criticism. His pride in being a good father may itself constitute abuse?
Seagrove was damaged by his mother’s early death from cancer and his wife’s desertion, true, but I wanted to shake him and tell him he is a good man, maybe too good.
Beyond his domestic, familial virtues, Seagrove is thoroughly civic minded. He is working to maintain a sculpture garden of Greek statuary and transform the park into a public venue for performing arts of all kinds, especially music.
Alone, he generates an infuriating amount of self-doubt, but others help add to it. His girlfriend Sadie, a singer/songwriter (the career daughter Chloe, our Aphrodite, goddess of beauty, aspires to) lectures him. She intensifies her criticism when she learns Seagrove has been unfaithful with his best friend Campbell. Campbell is a lesbian, “But every once in a while she falls off the wagon and onto me.”
Campbell’s ex-husband hires a private detective to see if she is really gay. He thinks she is lying and actually left him for another man which, one supposes, he could deal with better. Seagrove’s ex-wife shows up and stirs the pot. Far from being a villain, Seagrove is such an innocent he has no inkling of the vortex of sexual hanky-panky going on all around him.
Increasingly agitated and frightfully unlucky, before it’s over this peaceful schlemiel is plunged into several violent encounters, even losing his front teeth at a rock concert.
“Aphrodite” is a comic novel in the French farce tradition, but at 413 pages, confusion and misunderstanding can get exhausting. Characters are artfully drawn, and I was sympathetic to Seagrove’s plight until I lost patience with him. The over-examined life may not be worth living.
This review was originally broadcast on Alabama Public Radio. Don Noble is host of the Alabama Public Television literary interview show “Bookmark” and the editor of “A State of Laughter: Comic Fiction from Alabama.”