The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton reexamines the trials and tribulations of a fictional 1970s soul rock band fronted by a White British man and an Black American woman who see their rise decline during a racial riot at a major concert. Marked with exquisite detail, the story trips up on telling multiple perspectives to the point it’s difficult to connect with the many characters and their worlds.

Sunny Shelton is a music journalist and the daughter of Jimmy Curtis, a drummer who was fatally beaten during a 1971 concert featuring the top talent from up-and-coming label Rivington Records. What sparked the melee was the conflict between Opal & Nev, an interracial soul rock group, and the Bond Brothers, a Southern White band who brought the Confederate flag on stage. Opal, a Black woman from Detroit who summered in Alabama when she was young, hated that the Bond Brothers had the audacity to bring this oft-perceived offensive symbol of oppression on stage. The history of how the concert went south becomes fascination for Sunny who revisits all the players decades later to write a book about the events that led to her father’s untimely death. And the fact that Opal was having an affair with Sunny’s father at the time of the concert blurs the emotions of Sunny’s journalism as she tries to revive a music magazine as editor in chief.

The book is packed with details that the story of Opal & Nev feels authentic. The story focuses on this band, but the story comes full circle with the band’s influence on the deadly concert that becomes part of music history on the level of Woodstock. The details also become problematic where the characters become sidelined by telling their stories to Sunny, who as a narrator fades in the background but reappears toward the end as she pieces who was at fault for her father’s death. The plot is reminiscent to Taylor Jenkins Reid’s novel, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, but in that masterpiece the journalist with the dead father and the Hollywood actress are the only perspectives the reader receives with their stories intertwining at the end as well. In Evelyn Hugo, the characters’ truths flow well with the same story backdrop of a journalist’s interview process highlighting an icon’s journey where in Opal & Nev that technique fails especially with the characters’ truths changing almost every page, so a character’s thought process gets amputated by another character’s thought process.

Opal is supposed to be the main character, but when the story is not told from her point-of-view, it seems like a loss for the reader to really get to know how magical she seems to be. She is presented to us as this badass Black female singer struggling to become a star amid the civil rights movement who has elements of Betty Davis or Tina Turner, overshadowed by a male musician but finds her voice. But her voice is misconstrued when she tries to plot revenge on the Bond Brothers and destroy the Confederate flag at a high-profile concert. This part of the story feels all too real of a Black woman trying to raise awareness about racial insensitivity yet is the scapegoat for the disaster that results from the explosive anger.

Overall, the novel features an extraordinary fictional music saga, but the characters contributing to the story get lost in the shuffle of a pretend journalistic venture. The elaborateness of the fake historical account can be awe-inspiring as well as destructive to the story’s resonance.

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