GARY BENCHLEY, Rock Star

A wry debut about self-absorbed twentysomethings who ditch bourgeois gigs in data entry for rock-'n'-roll dreams.

A wry debut about self-absorbed twentysomethings who ditch bourgeois gigs in data entry for rock-'n'-roll dreams.

A 21st-century Candide, Gary Benchley fled Albany for New York City, starry-eyed about becoming the next Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips. Weaned on Royal Trux, Cat Power and other indie-rock no-hit wonders, he aspires to cult status. NPR technology commentator and editor at Harper's magazine, Ford knowingly conveys the inflated angst and fleeting joys of standard white-boy life. Exploiting his young-man blues, Gary assembles Schizopolis, his multicultural supergroup—gay synth-player, chick drummer and Benchley himself on vocals and three-chord rhythm guitar. And, oh yeah, a black bassist, who, after trenchantly accusing Gary of "racial profiling," gamely signs on. The alterna-sitcom unwinds as the band pens obscurantist anthems ("Tugboat," "We're All Annoying Together"), dazzles drunken handfuls in concert and releases an album, "Dancing with Architecture." And as a coming of age tale, the novel features obligatory romance: Gary's lukewarm liaison with one of the Big Apple's hipper bloggers. Up-to-the-minute breathlessness is its charm, even while the book lacks the resonance of other rock novels like Nick Hornby's High Fidelity or Roddy Doyle's The Commitments. Nor does Gary have half the spiritual heft of Holden Caulfield, the granddaddy of the mixed-up seeker genre. Still, there are many disarmingly funny moments, such as Gary's dad's insistence that his boy provide him with legitimate career plans by means of a PowerPoint presentation.

A snapshot of what it means to be young, smug and oh-so-trendy, circa 2005.