Master of Reality

May 11, 2017 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

masterMaster of Reality by John Darnielle


Well, this is an odd book. If you’re not familiar with 33⅓, it’s a series of books written by music critics about albums in the same way that literary critics write about literature. I’ve known of it for a while, and I’ve even known that John Darnielle wrote this one, but I didn’t think anything of it because I figured I wasn’t interested in reading what some dude thought about Black Sabbath, even if he wrote Wolf in White Van. What I didn’t realize is this isn’t a nonfictional piece.

Darnielle writes his appreciation of this album through the voice of Roger Painter, a sixteen-year-old who has been sent to a psychiatric hospital for being a teenager. It’s not clear what happened to send him there, but what’s important to him at that time of his life is Black Sabbath, specifically their album Master of Reality. In a journal that he’s expected to keep as part of his therapy, he talks about its importance, and how he really needs to hear it, even though his tapes and Walkman have been confiscated.

The story is told in two parts, first from Roger’s perspective at sixteen, though his journal, and the second also from Roger’s perspective, ten years later. Darnielle does a convincing job of showing how the record has had an effect on him, namely because he’s considered a misfit, and Black Sabbath is made up of misfits. He writes about them being successful despite their backgrounds, not due to it, and Roger, sent to a psychiatric hospital and later doing what he can to get by, can relate to that. He talks about the emotion of the album, despite the ridiculous subject matter, and how the music itself is what speaks to him. It’s a familiar refrain for anyone who is really into music, and it’s easy to relate to Roger through that passion.

In some ways, the discussion of the album interferes with the story (and folks reading this for Darnielle’s appreciation could legitimately argue that the story gets in the way of the appreciation), but the story can’t exist without that appreciation. It’s Roger’s therapy to write what he feels, and what he feels is tied in with Master of Reality. The author writes a convincing character in Roger, and it’s easy to sympathize with him, as, for at least part of the story, he’s helpless to prevent what’s happening to him.

Folks who found a good story in Wolf in White Van owe it to themselves to read this book. I believe that readers who already are familiar with the album will get the most out of it, but anyone who has ever grown up with an album that helped define them will recognize the importance that Darnielle puts on music in this book. I think it could be easily overlooked due to it being fiction in a series of nonfiction books, which is a shame. The style he used to great success in Wolf in White Van is evident here.

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