The Final Revival of Opal & Nev is a fictional account of an interracial music duo's rise to success (and their famous split) in which race and gender issues loomed larger for me than the musical framework of the story.
In Dawnie Walton's novel The Final Revival of Opal and Nev, music journalist S. Sunny Shelton shapes an oral history of two music idols, tracing their family lives, youthful experiences, how they met each other, their creative expression, and the passion that ignited a passionate cult following for the duo and their music--until Opal's taking a stand for her beliefs (and a concurrent, horrific tragedy) ended their music partnership in dramatic fashion.
Decades later, as Opal considers reconciling with Nev for a set of reunion performances, truths from the past come to light and threaten to upend any hope of getting the two musical talents back together.
Nev is presented as a nerdy musical genius, but the examples of his lyrics and musical explorations seemed corny and clunky to me. I felt consistently irritated with him as a clueless and increasingly unappealing character. He is repeatedly shown to be out of touch with the times, and he illustrates time and time again that he is determinedly unaware of his financial, male, and white privilege. The reader is also privy to his disturbing feelings of what feel like entitlement toward Opal. He felt too easy to dislike, and neither the moment his true nature was illuminated nor my cemented disappointment in him as a character came as a particular surprise.
In deliberate contrast, Opal cuts a striking figure, and I loved witnessing her growth from a young, vibrant, unsure, but strong-willed performer into an icon of fashion, an outspoken speaker of uncomfortable truths about race and gender, and a determined woman who knows her mind. She is interestingly faulted, and after the story's early, painful tragedy, she shies away from facing difficult realities for a time before standing strong again in the end. I found her life story and her musical forays much more captivating than Nev's.
Reporter Sunny's connection to the two performers and their past was intriguing, and I very much enjoyed watching events unfold as this connection became more important to the story.
Race and gender power structures and struggles are at play throughout the novel, looming larger for me than the musical framework around which Walton builds her story.
I listened to The Final Revival of Opal & Nev as an audiobook.
Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?
This is Dawnie Walton's first novel.
If you like fiction about music, you might want to check out the titles on the Greedy Reading List Six Rockin' Stories about Bands and Music.