I remember being mesmerized the first time I saw Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged session, as I’m sure countless other teens have. From the first notes of “About A Girl,” I was hooked, feet up on the couch, listening and wondering about the mystical blue-eyed man growling into the microphone in that famous oatmeal cardigan. It’s a common response, I think. He inspired awe.
Kurt Cobain is the heart of the latest novel by Lynn Crosbie, Where Did You Sleep Last Night (House of Anansi), a wild mixture of fan fiction and magical realism. In it, we find him reimagined as the love interest of Evelyn Gray, a teenager who, while recovering from an overdose, believes she’s found the spirit of Cobain in a neighboring hospital bed. It is, in part, a love letter to Cobain and a meditation on how our past obsessions bleed into the present, fuelling nostalgia and feelings of loss.
The reincarnated version of Cobain, renamed Celine Black, becomes an immediate object of Evelyn’s desire, and she soon runs off with him from the hospital. They develop an intense codependent relationship as they navigate their own paths as musicians, Evelyn starting her own Hole-inspired band and Celine, inevitably, fronting his own group called Bleach (named after Nirvana’s first album, naturally).
Between drug-soaked days, Evelyn becomes consumed by her love for Celine and steadfast in her assertion that he is the embodiment of her grunge-rock hero, sticking by him even as their relationship grows toxic.
As always and forever, to his magnetic beauty: how refined it had become, burned of its impurities, and clean enough to kill me.
While at first an entire novel of Cobain fan fiction may seem like a stretch, Crosbie handles the subject so beautifully that it soon becomes easy to get wrapped up in the lives of the characters of her own making. Of course, she weaves so many cultural references into the narrative that the grunge scene of the ’90s is ever-present throughout – a reminder of the real man and bands of the time who inspired this work.
Throughout the novel and even on the cover – an illustration of one of the last professional photos taken of Cobain, wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses, smoking a cigarette – we’re reminded of the loss of an artist and beloved rock icon. But while the reality of the story’s ending is one of sadness, Crosbie manages to be as creative and emotionally raw in her imagery as that of the lyrics to some of our favourite Nirvana songs.
Speaking of her full name, Evelyn Curtis-Anne Deleuze Gray, the teenager reflects on the legacy behind those names, which, as a suicidal sixteen-year-old, she takes as a sort of omen:
My second names, in order: a singer whose music boils with misery; a poet who asphyxiated herself while wearing her dead mother’s fur coat and jewellery; and a philosopher who, racked with pain from cancer, poured himself out of a window in Paris.
The hopelessness and also eerily casual tone of the phrasing “poured himself out of a window” to describe someone’s suicide is an example of how Crosbie plays with language in a way that all at once surprises and troubles, but makes for an engaging read. Even in describing a hotel room, “with a mini-fridge, balcony, and painting of Janis Joplin slapping Leonard Cohen across the face,” it’s hard not to be transfixed by the writing.
Delving into this book is like delving into past loves through a new lens, with the added bonus of drama, humor and an honest exploration of the madness and beauty of giving your whole heart to another.
And it’s quite possible it’ll make you want to go back and listen to “About A Girl.”
(House of Anansi, Fiction, Paperback, May 2015)
LESLEY LEROUX is a writer, editor and artist based in Canada’s capital (originally from Newfoundland). She graduated with a degree in journalism from Carleton University. Her fiction, nonfiction and photography have been published both in print and online, and she has occasionally dabbled in radio and television. She is a feminist, bibliophile and yogi who can be found tweeting about any of the above @LesleyLeRoux.