Claustrophobic musical horror: White Tears by Hari Kunzru
White Tears is a literary horror story about music, race, and the hidden stories in America’s history. It starts off showing two music-obsessed friends, Seth and Carter, with Carter’s trust fund allowing them to delve into musical history and attempt to buy long forgotten records. This obsession with the past becomes something darker, something which defies conventional senses of past, present, and reality, until they are caught in a world without the freedom they are used to.
Kunzu’s novel begins slowly and initially feels like a story of rich and poor, a rich obsessive and his poorer friend, but abruptly turns into something much more interesting, the search for the origins of an elusive and unexpected track that seems to be haunting them. This track and other music and sounds are carefully written into the novel until it feels as if they are playing in the background as the characters are drawn deeper into a lost musical world that is deeply embedded in America’s past. It is not until later in the novel that it becomes apparent how Kunzru’s style and narrative have been setting up a chillingly inevitable dark world for the characters.
The combination of specific music recording terminology and a narrative that gradually erodes the difference of time means that the book may not appeal to everybody, but its transformation from a stereotypical New York opening to a ghost story about race and forgotten history is something to be experienced.