by Laura Quinn
Laura Quinn’s novel Punk Charming follows the lives of Kate and James as they traverse the globe in hopes of one day meeting again and cementing the love they found on a train in 1986. Quinn’s passion for the fashion, lingo, music, and culture of the 1980s is clear, as Kate and James, as well the secondary characters, embody the lifestyle of the decade. Unlike most romance tales, Punk Charming highlights the growth of the characters and the journey they embark on rather than lustful scenes and corny declarations of love. Though the writing at times seems rushed and the details provided feel a bit overkill, it is clear that Quinn believes love will conquer all.
The novel begins with eighteen-year-old Kate embarking on a trip to England where she will complete a study abroad program at Oxford. She is armed with a Walkman full of ’80s music and as many Duran Duran t-shirts that will fit in her suitcase. Upon arriving in Paris, however, she is met with peril and has to use her wits to narrowly avoid catastrophe. Disaster leads to fate, though, when she meets James on a train and it is truly love at first sight.
Once they part, however, the story takes a turn. In a series of almost-meetings between the two, Kate and James seem like puppets caught in a storm, one controlled by the overly attached and deviously scheming character of David. Kate and her sister spend the years going to concerts and parties, all with the underlying motive of meeting James once again.
The plot itself is a compelling concept, but in practice the narration falls short. The atmosphere feels overly described, leaving little left to the imagination of the reader. Though it may be safe to say Quinn employed this technique to help the younger generation envision the ’80s, since they would not have been around to witness it in all its glory. However, the character of David is over-stereotyped, leaving little room for redemption, however much readers might crave it. Indeed, by the end, the constant foil he provides for the protagonists gets to be stale and predictable.
The barrage of ’80s culture is reflected in the “song-of-the-year” chapter titles. These songs give the sections their own unique feel, even though sometimes it feels like the chapters are reaching to adhere to the theme of the song rather than the other way around. They stand as accurate measures of time passing, however, and keep the decades in sharp clarity.
By the time the story reaches the age of the Internet, the connection between the star-crossed lovers is still as complicated as before. Eventually, the world traveling comes to gliding stop in the Chicago area, where it is evident Quinn has spent a considerable amount of time and enjoys as much as her European haunts. If there is one thing the novel excels at, it is the bright bursts of exposition describing the beauties of the countries Kate traverses.
Intriguing as the journey Kate and James took is, the scenes speed by at alarming rates, showing actions and reactions rather than getting into the interiority of the characters themselves. Because of the lack of technology (no smartphones, Wi-Fi, etc.) it would seem the characters would reflect inwardly more often than they did. In the end, Punk Charming is more than a typical romance novel; for lovers of the ’80s and for those that enjoy traveling both in life and through novels, this book gives the reader a little bit of everything.
January 2016, Caliburn Press
$14.95, paperback, 414 pages
—Reviewed by Sara Cutaia