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Book Review: The Age of Anxiety

The Age of Anxiety: A Novel

The Age of Anxiety: A Novel by Pete Townshend

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wasn’t sure what was going on for much of this novel from classic rocker, guitarist, and genius of The Who, Pete Townshend, but I couldn’t put it down after the first few chapters.

The Age of Anxiety is two parts character study and one part story, loosely following the journey of pub-rocker Walter through the anxious mind of his godfather, Louis Doxtader.

Louis is an art dealer who has often helped artists to channel their various neuroses into their art. And so it happens that his godson, Walter, has begun having strange auditory experiences at his shows. Walter feels that he is experiencing the emotions of his audience in some way. All of their anxieties come to him and weigh upon him. Louis leads his godson to washed up actor-turned-artist, who had experienced visual experiences akin to Walter’s. Walter retreats from his life but remerges anew fifteen years later, full of new artistic life, back together with his band again.

This novel looks at Walter’s anxiety, along with the worries of the world at large, e.g., violence, climate change, through the mind of Louis Doxtader, who is himself haunted by an experience in his own past. This event and Louis’s uncertainty around it propel him into deeper and deeper stress and worry.

This was the hardest aspect of the novel for me, as the climax of the book was discovering the truth and realizing that Louis didn’t rape Walter’s current wife after Walter’s wedding to his previous wife. I’m not sure if it’s a “me too” era thing or not, but the whole last act just felt bad. The best possible outcome was that our main character didn’t have to have his life ruined after raping someone during her blackout. Somehow the stakes were too low but also not recognized being very high for what it did to her as opposed to the decades-later effects on Louis.

Townshend shows off his craft in this, however, as the seemingly innocuous Louis quickly becomes the stories potential villain, all from Louis’s own perception.

Any elements of struggle in this novel are mostly internal to Louis, but the only thing that stands against the anxieties of the world is fate or serendipity, which makes jarring appearances throughout. Characters show up–for good or ill–at exactly the right time. Long-lost adopted children discover their birth parents, who were close at hand all along.

I’m still not sure what captivated me in this novel, but Townshend expertly crafts this neurotic character study using what the world knows him for: sex, drugs, and rock-‘n’-roll.

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