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.