A fictional oral history-style story about a seventies rock group risks being gimmicky, on a number of levels. And indeed, aspects of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s Daisy Jones & The Six conform to conventions and tropes rather than challenging them, from the self-centered lead singer battling his demons to the manic-pixie dream girl who never wears shoes and never shows up on time. That said, this novel defies expectations and ultimately makes some surprisingly profound observations about love, art, and gender. (And it does not, thank goodness, delve into the pitfalls of success and celebrity.)
The oral history format provides a familiar structure on which to hang the characters’ revelations about themselves and about their relationship to each other. The band forms, has a hit, grows more popular, expands to include an additional member (Daisy Jones), and finds worldwide success. (No spoilers, but to anyone familiar at all with the history of rock bands in the US, the structure of the final act cannot come as much of a surprise.) Jenkins Reid transforms the types of conflicts one would expect to find in a rock-and-roll narrative into something more nuanced. For example, Billy Dunne, the lead singer of The Six, is controlling and often oblivious to his bandmates, but the oral history format allows readers to see both that his attitude hurts and angers the rest of the band and that his perfectionism leads to their best music. Whether to allow Daisy Jones to join the Six, and in what role, is another development served well by the multi-vocal nature of the oral history structure.
Given the generally marginalized role of women within rock and roll, I was surprised to find myself drawn the most to the characters of Camila (Billy Dunne’s wife), Karen Sirko (keyboardist in The Six), and Daisy Jones (singer/songwriter and manic-pixie dream girl). Karen in particular has some great lines, such as “Men often think they deserve a sticker for treating women like people” (a sentiment which is juxtaposed, to great effect, with a pompous speech by Billy about music being “a great equalizer”). Camila, far from being the naive wife left at home while Billy tours, lets Billy know she has more self-worth than to put up with philandering: “You think there’s a woman alive who is better than what you have?” And Daisy leans into her own identity as a difficult woman, saying, “I used to care when men called me difficult. I really did. Then I stopped. This way is better.” Daisy’s charisma and talent is what makes her struggles, which the novel explores in its latter half, compelling.
Especially in the second half, this is a compulsively readable novel that holds surprises and a surprising depth, considering many of the limitations of the oral history format.