James Marcus reviews Nelson George's novel "Seduced: The Life and Times of a One-Hit Wonder".

By James Marcus

Published April 30, 1996 7:00PM (EDT)

Nelson George spent most of the 1980s in the music world, which he covered for Billboard, the Village Voice and an assortment of other magazines. Now he's produced a novel about Derek Harper, who also happens to spend most of that decade in the music world -- not as a journalist, but as an aspiring songwriter. Derek, alas, has been born too late. Raised in middle-class Queens on a diet of Motown and Philly soul, he arrives on the scene just as these styles are going into the dumpster, abandoned in favor of disco, rap, new jack and so forth. He spends most of the book trying to reconcile his tastes with those of the era, seeing just how much he can accommodate before winding up (as the title would have it) seduced.

Not surprisingly, the author's take on the music business is crammed with amusing and accurate detail. There are sleazeball promoters, temperamental rappers, fans, scams and (for Derek, at least) regular disillusionments. The non-musical portion of the book, however, isn't nearly as convincing. George lays the foundation, sketching in his protagonist's boyhood, family, friends and his succession of failed romances. But all this stuff seems to exist on the margin of his career, and since Derek fails to advance an inch into maturity until he hits 30, there's not much character development to pull the reader in. At one point Derek praises rap for its incursions into "the realm of politics, pain and psychological horror." George's book might have profited from a dose of the same.

James Marcus

James Marcus is a critic, translator and novelist living in Portland, Oregon. He is a regular contributor to Salon.

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