Bookshelf: Grady Hendrix’s WE SOLD OUR SOULS is a Love Letter to Heavy Metal and Friendship

“In the 1990s, heavy metal band Dürt Würk was poised for breakout success—but then lead singer Terry Hunt embarked on a solo career and rocketed to stardom as Koffin, leaving his fellow bandmates to rot in obscurity.

Two decades later, former guitarist Kris Pulaski works as the night manager of a Best Western—she’s tired, broke, and unhappy. Everything changes when a shocking act of violence turns her life upside down, and she begins to suspect that Terry sabotaged more than just the band.

Kris hits the road, hoping to reunite with the rest of her bandmates and confront the man who ruined her life. It’s a journey that will take her from the Pennsylvania rust belt to a celebrity rehab center to a music festival from hell. A furious power ballad about never giving up, even in the face of overwhelming odds, We Sold Our Souls is an epic journey into the heart of a conspiracy-crazed, pill-popping, paranoid country that seems to have lost its very soul … where only a lone girl with a guitar can save us all.”

If you’ve read either of author Grady Hendrix’s novels from the last few years — 2014’s Horrorstör or 2016’s My Best Friend’s Exorcism — you’re aware that, despite what might seem to be otherworldly antagonists and paranormal activity, the real heart of the books rest in the relationships between the characters within them.

We Sold Our Souls‘ Kris follows in the footsteps of Horrorstör‘s Amy and Abby from My Best Friend’s Exorcism, in that she’s willing to go to great lengths to help save her friends from something terrible which has taken over their lives. Also, as in Hendrix’s previous books, it’s entirely possible at first that what’s afflicting the protagonist’s friends could be something other than something from beyond.

Here, it’s especially effective, because the very nature of the band’s breakup, the people within it, and the passage of time means that it could theoretically be any number of things: mental illness, substance abuse, bad blood, or otherwise. All of these options are satisfactorily explored, too, with each succesive reveal more surprising and cleverly-handled.

Given that it’s in the text above, and the flap of the dust jacket, it’s no spoiler to reveal that Kris will inevitably find her way to a music festival. However, it’s her journey there — mirrored by that of Melanie, a fan of Koffin — that matters. It’s couched in chapter titles that come from classic metal albums, which give clues as to what’s about to happen for those in the know, and in throwaway lines that mean so very much.

There’s a line where Dürt Würk’s guitarist, Scottie Rocket, yells at lead singer, Terry, about the music he’s proposed they record under the Koffin moniker, and it’s everything:

“Wah! Wah! Wah! No one loves me! Boo hoo! Guess what? We play fucking metal! I don’t want to sing about your sad feelings. I want dragons.”

I want that on a t-shirt. Hendrix hits everything that makes the music so important to those who love it, while looking with detail at the faults and flaws of the music industry. While I’ve always enjoyed the author’s work, and the way he creates characters with real heft, in Kris, he’s put someone on paper who is so very, very real.

There are scars here, both psychic and physical, and the story wastes no time in getting going. The use of flashbacks creates a real sense of how the wheel keeps turning, and ties the whole plot into a reflection of the story told on the album which is so integral to We Sold Our Souls.

There are so many things that this book gets right; in addition to titling chapters after classic metal albums, Hendrix uses real bands for inspiration and ends up crafting songs that seem like they could exist, and people whom you feel like you might’ve once met. His trademark sense of humor keeps everything from getting too dark, and the usual epistolary details (in this case, transcriptions of radio and television appearances) provide a Greek chorus for details which otherwise might’ve had to be shoe-horned in.

The ending of the book left me in actual tears, and is as emotionally resonant as anything I’ve read lately, with a cinematic view that also closes in on just two people, reconnecting in a way that brings it all home.

In the press kit from Quirk, Hendrix states that he’s “never been a metal guy,” making this a “huge education” for the author, and you can can kind of glimpse that from time to time; a bit about nu metal comes off as having been compiled from Urban Dictionary definitions and a really snooty power metal fan. However, you can definitely feel the love for the genre the author says he acquired while researching the book.

The cover of the book manages to look like a ’70s occult novel, replete with pentagrams, while also nodding to the concepts of selling out explored within the pages of We Sold Our Souls by making both ‘S’s in “Souls” look ever-so-slightly like dollar signs.

Take off the dust jacket, and the cover features silver runic lettering that reveals itself to be backwards lettering. Yet another clever metal nod for those who remember the spot-varnish pentagram hidden on the cover of Mötley Crüe’s Shout at the Devil LP, or any number of backward-masked tracks over the decades, the wording is actually the full lyrics for “Blue Sky,” the track left off of Dürt Würk’s Troglodyte.

It’s a brilliant package, both within and without, making We Sold Our Souls necessary reading to kick off your Halloween season when it’s released via Quirk Books on Tuesday, September 18. All the places you can buy it can be found at Grady Hendrix’s website, and there’s a contest at Goodreads to win a copy of the book on Kindle that runs through Friday, September 14.

Check out the episode of Cinepunx talking Paperbacks from Hell, as well as our Q&A with Hendrix on the same subject. Friend of the site, Evan Vellela, is also thanked in the book for his insights on Allentown. We love some Grady Hendrix.

Nick Spacek

Nick Spacek

Nick Spacek writes about films scores in his monthly OST column for Starburst Magazine (http://www.starburstmagazine.com), and can be found talking about movie soundtracks via the From & Inspired By podcast (http:///www.fromandinspiredby.com). He was once a punk, but realized you can't be hardcore and use the word "adorable" as often as he does.
Nick Spacek
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