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The Final Revival of Opal & Nev

A Novel

About The Book

An electrifying novel about the meteoric rise of an iconic interracial rock duo in the 1970s, their sensational breakup, and the dark secrets unearthed when they try to reunite decades later for one last tour.

A GOOD MORNING AMERICA BUZZ PICK
NAMED A BEST BOOK OF 2021 BY BARACK OBAMA * THE WASHINGTON POST * NPR * ESQUIRE * ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY * GOODREADS * THE MILLIONS * READER’S DIGEST * PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER * EERIE READER * PUBLIC RADIO TULSA * CHICAGO PUBLIC LIBRARY * KIRKUS REVIEWS

“Feels truer and more mesmerizing than some true stories. It’s a packed time capsule that doubles as a stick of dynamite.” —THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW

Opal is a fiercely independent young woman pushing against the grain in her style and attitude, Afro-punk before that term existed. Coming of age in Detroit, she can’t imagine settling for a 9-to-5 job—despite her unusual looks, Opal believes she can be a star. So when the aspiring British singer/songwriter Neville Charles discovers her at a bar’s amateur night, she takes him up on his offer to make rock music together for the fledgling Rivington Records.

In early seventies New York City, just as she’s finding her niche as part of a flamboyant and funky creative scene, a rival band signed to her label brandishes a Confederate flag at a promotional concert. Opal’s bold protest and the violence that ensues set off a chain of events that will not only change the lives of those she loves, but also be a deadly reminder that repercussions are always harsher for women, especially black women, who dare to speak their truth.

Decades later, as Opal considers a 2016 reunion with Nev, music journalist S. Sunny Shelton seizes the chance to curate an oral history about her idols. Sunny thought she knew most of the stories leading up to the cult duo’s most politicized chapter. But as her interviews dig deeper, a nasty new allegation from an unexpected source threatens to blow up everything.

Provocative and chilling, The Final Revival of Opal & Nev features a backup chorus of unforgettable voices, a heroine the likes of which we’ve not seen in storytelling, and a daring structure, and introduces a bold new voice in contemporary fiction.

Excerpt

Editor’s Note EDITOR’S NOTE
It’s hard not to be charmed by Nev Charles. When he sings, obviously—that versatile instrument that switches from a sweet and high plaint to a low, cozy rumble—but especially when he laughs. You must have seen this before, in late-night skits or in concert footage or maybe in last year’s surreal Doritos commercial: He throws his head back, his green eyes and ginger hair disappearing momentarily from view, until all you see is chin and tongue and uvula and nostrils. The sound that erupts is boisterous and contagious, a blast of distinct “HA HA!s” often accompanied by a single sharp clap of the hands.

I triggered this delightful response when we finally met, as we were getting settled on his private plane, its dingy seats and the peeling adhesive tint over the windows evidence that the money, while still enough to cover jet fuel, wasn’t quite what it used to be. Our tête-à-tête was the result of a long negotiation—one that had irked Lizzie Harris, the PR maven who has plotted the direction of Nev’s public life for literally as long as I’ve been alive, through crises including Rivington Showcase, addiction, failed marriages, and, in recent years, the collective shrug with which his new music has been received. Lizzie made it plain that this book was proceeding under duress—No offense, doll, she’d said, I’d just planned to arrange the writer myself. But since Opal had floated the offer to me—an independent journalist who couldn’t be bankrolled, who could spill the possible reunion of Opal & Nev at any moment—she was backed somewhat into a corner.

I made concessions, and she made concessions, and our dance involved a loose agreement that I might be granted some time with Nev so long as I kept under embargo this talk of a reunion tour. The final step toward yes had been to get Opal & Nev’s producer, Bob Hize, whose health by then was seriously ailing, to agree to an on-the-record chat with me—touchingly easy, once I put in writing an interview request that revealed who I was. (When I visited him at his bedside, despite his late-stage cancer his eyes lit up and he called me “dear girl,” and I understood why his artists love and respect him so.) Once Bob came onboard for what would likely be the last formal interviews of his life, Lizzie sighed and gave the okay. I thanked her profusely, nearly teary with relief at getting the green light, but, like the toughest, most impressive women with whom I’ve ever worked, Lizzie skipped sentimentality and launched into logistics.

The best way to get several hours with Nev, she advised, was to do them consecutively and in a confined, non-distracting space. And so we planned that I’d join Nev on a twelve-hour flight from London to Kyoto, where he was due to perform the old solo hits (plus float a few new songs) at a jazz and folk festival. I’d brought along a file of clips about Nev from Aural’s archives, including a portrait from 1976, the year America celebrated its bicentennial (and Nev, coincidentally, got naturalized). In it, Nev’s head pops out of a gigantic apple pie. Glops of filling and bits of crust cling to his skin and muck up his mullet; wild-eyed and grimacing, he clenches his teeth around the stem of a miniature American flag.

Sitting across from him on the plane, looking for a way to break the ice as we rumbled down the runway, I showed this old photo to him. “First question,” I said, mock-serious. “Did you consider rescinding your citizenship after this?”

That’s when he gave it to me like a gift: that air-gobbler of a cackle. Which startled our flight attendant so badly that she nearly spilled the club soda she was pouring straight into Nev’s lap, which led Nev to joke about how such a spill would actually leave his blue jeans cleaner than before, which set him off on a recitation of limericks he’d once written in response to Alanis Morrissette’s “Ironic”… all of which, I confess, had the effect of mesmerizing me dumb. Ten minutes later, he ended the riff with an “Ah, well.” And before I could ask a single real question, Nev Charles reclined his seat for what he said would be a power nap. “My left eye’ll go twitchy if I don’t,” he explained, yawning. He proceeded to plunge into a deep sleep, laid out on his back.

I spent the first hour of his snoring organizing my questions and feeling quite competent. Even glancing about with a bit of fondness. The wrinkles around Nev’s eyes made him look smart and distinguished. Better than on television. The kind of older man referred to as a fox. Did he look a bit like an older, redder Benedict Cumberbatch? He did, I thought; he did. In the seat next to him was a tote that had fallen onto its side to reveal what he was consuming these days: The New Jim Crow; a recent issue of The Atlantic; a slim book of poetry that, by some miracle, had just cracked the New York Times’ best sellers list.

When one hour became two became three, when the flight attendant draped a blanket over Nev’s prone body, pure panic surged through me. Time was ticking past, and I’d been told this would be my only shot to interview him. I glanced at the time on my phone, at the books and magazines again: Were these props set up for me to notice them? Would I ruin our rapport if I waggled his foot in order to wake him? Might he think such a move was admirably assertive, or just plain rude? Good lord, had he taken a pill? I asked the pretty young flight attendant how long he normally slept on these flights. “It’s the only time he gets to,” she chided me.

Thankfully, shortly after this, a sudden drop in our plane’s elevation jolted Nev awake. His eyes landed on me and he jerked again, as if surprised I hadn’t parachuted out the back.

“Sorry about the turbulence, Mr. Charles,” the pilot’s voice said over the intercom. “We’ll take her up a little higher.”

Nev returned to an upright position and jostled a pinkie in his ear. Jerked his head toward each shoulder, as if forcing water out. “I’m told you’re Jimmy Curtis’s daughter, is that right?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said, “but I’m not in the business of dropping his name.” I scrambled to open the recording app on my phone while Nev was still alert and somewhat focused. “Shall we start?”

“Straight to the chase, then,” he said. “Good! A real journalist. A little like your father too. Not much for idle chitchat, that one.”

Now Nev was going too fast, getting ahead of himself. As with Opal Jewel, I wanted to start our formal interview at the beginning. I felt that I needed to start there, although initially, with a megastar like Nev, I wasn’t sure why. Certainly there’s been enough ink spilled on the facts of his childhood, enough to comprise two paragraphs of his impressively long Wikipedia page. At first he unspooled it for me with great wit and verve, the way any crowd-pleaser spins through the old repertoire: He burst into snippets of melody when remembering the evolution of a riff or chorus, and his warm English accent modulated high or low with the mood of whatever tale he was spinning. Yes, of course, I was entertained.

But whenever he let loose that silly, spectacular laugh, I couldn’t help but wonder how most of what I’d read about Nev failed to answer these core questions: How does a laugh like this—so unselfconscious and assured in its obnoxiousness, so made for a good-natured mocking on SNL—square with the image of the lonely, bookish boy he used to be? What was the distance crossed? And what got lost along the way?

This journey begins circa 1962—the year Nev turned fourteen, and his musical life began in another Birmingham.

About The Author

Photograph by Rayon Richards

Dawnie Walton is a fiction writer and journalist whose work explores identity, place, and the influence of pop culture. She has won fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and the Tin House Summer Workshop, and earned her MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Previously, she worked as an executive-level editor for magazine and multimedia brands, including Essence, Entertainment Weekly, Getty Images, and LIFE. A native of Jacksonville, Florida, she lives with her husband in Brooklyn.

Product Details

  • Publisher: 37 Ink (March 22, 2022)
  • Length: 368 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781982140175

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Raves and Reviews

PRAISE FOR THE FINAL REVIVAL OF OPAL AND NEV BY DAWNIE WALTON

“This novel is so good, I want to rent a velvet-swagged amphitheater and gather a large audience to blare through a microphone just how much I like it…Befitting her name, Opal is a complex, shade-shifting idol, not so much sparkling as iridescent…[Dawnie Walton] has conjured an entire oeuvre of lyrics, licks and liner notes that is backdrop for some of the most pressing political issues of our era, or any era. The story Sunny “tells” using the tools of journalism is propulsive, often funny and thought-provoking. Like the best fiction, it feels truer and more mesmerizing than some true stories. It’s a packed time capsule that doubles as a stick of dynamite.”—NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW

“A dazzling triumph...it is refreshing to read a book that centers a Black woman [Opal] who has this many layers, a book that seeks neither to save her from nor punish her for the flaws that make her human...an unforgettable character.”—WASHINGTON POST

The Final Revival of Opal & Nev is itself anything but "regular." A deep dive into the recent past, it also simultaneously manages to be a rumination on up-to-the-minute themes like cultural appropriation in music, and the limits of white allyship. It's the kind of overwhelming novel that, like a polyphonic double album back in the day, readers might want to experience more than once to let all the notes sink in.”—MAUREEN CORRIGAN, NPR’s FRESH AIR

“A lively take on the music industry’s commercialism, racism, and sexism, and also a commentary on how history and memory are refracted through changing cultural currents.”—NEW YORKER

“Dawnie Walton’s fabulous debut novel is an utterly fresh take on ?nding one’s voice, on systemic racism and sexism, and on freedom of expression. That these heavy subjects don’t weigh down this hugely entertaining novel are testament to Walton’s deftness and skill.”—OPRAHMAG.COM

“Easy to read, and yet layered in both its organization and its impact… [a] twisty, politically in?ected tale. Provocative, rich, and assured, The Final Revival of Opal & Nev is a singular debut.”—VOGUE

“The book bursts with fourth-wall breaks and clear-eyed takes on race, sex, and creativity that Walton unfurls in urgent, endlessly readable style.” —ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY

 

“Walton’s astute debut reckons with racial violence, the limits of storytelling, and fame. “You might find it at times untamed and unwieldy, and find that it contains no easy answers,” warns our narrator—happily, a kept promise.”—VANITY FAIR

“[A] dazzling debut. A bold novel with an unforgettable protagonist, Opal & Nev reads like a rock & roll docudrama.”—REAL SIMPLE

The Final Revival of Opal & Nev features an ambitious literary structure that is rarely seen in contemporary writing. On the surface, it is a complex oral history conducted by a music journalist about her beloved rock ‘n’ roll duo. But as the interview touches deeper, we see more unexpected layers of the story that will threaten to reverse any established narratives. The unique storytelling matches the depth of the theme that the novel aspires to explore: Black women who dare to tell the truth but whose voices are too often repressed.”—THE MILLIONS

“[A] showstopper…Unsparing and raw in its exploration of the personal and political complications these characters face, the novel explodes with color, style, and music as it explores the challenges of love and art, racism and gender inequality in a story that doesn’t leave a single note out of place.”—DAILY BEAST

“Spectacular...This is a ?recracker.”—PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, *starred review*

“Walton's debut novel is so lucidly envisioned, readers will wish that YouTube videos existed of the ?ctional Opal & Nev…A cinematic, stereophonic, and boldly imagined story of race, gender, and agency in art.”—BOOKLIST, *starred review*

“[Opal] is a champion for people who have suffered discrimination, bullying, and marginalization, and she is fierce and sticks to her convictions, no matter the consequences to her career…Walton has penned a true wonder of a debut novel.”—Library Journal, *starred review*

“An intelligently executed love letter to Black female empowerment and the world of rock music.”—KIRKUS REVIEWS

“Walton has crafted a rock ‘n roll novel for the ages.”—LIT HUB

“A poignant and relevant reckoning for two captivating women...An utterly absorbing addition to contemporary fiction.”—BUST

“This book is so original on its own. [But] if you love Daisy Jones & the Six, run for this book…it’s incredible…it feels so real.”—BOOK RIOT

“In her powerful debut novel, Walton sews a fictional rock duo so seamlessly into the fabric of music history you’ll be tempted to Google as you read to hear Opal & Nev’s nascent Afro-punk sound, to see their pictures, to share shaky footage of their provocative live shows.”—Philadelphia Inquirer

Walton handles even the most serious issues with a gloriously light, wise touch.”—COLUMBUS DISPATCH

“A delightful and intriguing investigation into pop culture, American history and race. It makes you question why you’re drawn to the music that you like, forces you to reflect on important moments in pop culture, and makes you think about who gets forgotten over time.”—Minnesota Public Radio

“Walton’s debut novel has all of the dishy ingredients you’d want in a story about a scrappy rock duo that came to fame in the 1970s: Sex! Drugs! Scandal! Bell-bottoms! But this is a clever Trojan horse of a plot that contains a powerful critique of racism and sexism. It also, thankfully, includes Opal: a flawed, fierce, force of nature asserting herself in a world that makes it more difficult for women to thrive, especially women of color. So, come for the 70s fun, but stay for a bold new voice in fiction that skillfully serves some much needed medicine with just the right amount of sugar.”—AMAZON BOOK REVIEW, Best of the Month

“Electrifying...Walton’s tale bursts with such ripe detail–from Opal’s iconic ensembles to gossipy run-ins with real-life celebrities–that we were desperate to give the imaginary duo’s albums a spin. Drawing on all-too-familiar current events to prove that the past is never truly behind us, The Final Revival of Opal & Nev is as thought-provoking as it is a through-and-through pleasure.”—APPLE, Best of the Month

“Walton’s debut is bold, audacious and endlessly fascinating—much like Opal Jewel herself.”—Bookreporter.com

“A true feat of creativity—and a book that uses history to help contextualize what is going on in the here and now. Racism, feminism and capitalism are all addressed and subverted in Walton’s debut novel.”—She Reads

“Walton does an exquisite job weaving together the pains of loss and knowledge to show the real America and how only certain moments are cast as significant and remembered by most storytellers. She unravels the lead-up to Opal and Nev’s “Final Revival” in a piece of literature that is perfectly timed to respond to where we are now as a country…The Final Revival of Opal & Nev has strong characterizations that work in an oral history format and elevate it to a level that captures America at its core, even while it revolves around the story of this ahead-of-its-time punk band. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.”—Real Change News

“A vibrant and immersive portrait of 1970s rock and roll that hooks the reader early with its central mystery of what exactly happened at one life-changing show.”—News-Gazette

“One of the most immersive novels I've ever read…largely because of Walton's skill at letting so many people talk in so many different ways. Voices are marshalled from across America, and then across the Atlantic, and blended seamlessly into a tale about Black culture, Black women, and American capitalism. This is a thrilling work of polyphony—a ?rst novel that reads like the work of an old hand.”—TA-NEHISI COATES, New York Times bestselling author of The Water Dancer and Between the World and Me

The Final Revival of Opal & Nev is as musical and revolutionary in tone and structure as it is in content. It delves into the complexities of the creative life, speci?cally as it pertains to Black women and instead of shying away or egg-shelling, it does what every good book does: tells the truth. A truth that bangs. That shrieks. A siren song to shatter what we’ve known of the novel. Things won’t ever be the same after this. And I’m so happy Dawnie Walton has arrived.”—JASON REYNOLDS, author of the New York Times bestseller A Long Way Down

The Final Revival of Opal & Nev is lovely and lyrical; a warm and wonderful intersection between journalism and ?ction. This is a novel you'll want to read out loud. It's made for readers and music lovers who ?nd themselves wishing that Behind The Music was still on the air.”—KILEY REID, New York Times bestselling author of Such A Fun Age  

“‘Bold’ doesn’t even begin to describe it. Dawnie Walton's exhilarating debut is a thrill ride into the Afro-punk 1970s complete with a central character so unforgettable, you'll almost believe you’ve heard her name before. Innovative, sexy, edgy—I’ve never read anything like Opal & Nev, and I promise you haven't either.”—AYANA MATHIS, author of The Twelve Tribes of Hattie

“By turns playful and serious, and always wonderfully entertaining…the immensely gifted Dawnie Walton creates a vivid chorus of voices as she tells the story of Opal’s journey from a dive in Detroit to the stage in New York where everything changes.  This novel rocks.”—MARGOT LIVESEY, author of The Boy in the Field

“Buckle up when you sit down to follow Opal on her journey from a young girl in Detroit who is trying to ?nd her voice to a con?dent woman who travels the world speaking her own truth, even when it gets her in trouble. An intoxicating blend of pop culture and politics, feminist power and fun.”—BEVERLY BOND, author of BLACK GIRLS ROCK: OWNING OUR MAGIC, ROCKING OUR TRUTH, and creator and executive producer of BLACK GIRLS ROCK!

“Fantastic. I so desperately wanted Opal Jewel to have existed; I wanted to have experienced her music ?rst-hand. What I love most of all about this book, though, is the way Walton quite literally inserts a strong, bold Black rock musician into a history that’s often discouraged us from shining, or from even entering at all. Magical.”—ZAKIYA DALILA HARRIS, author of The Other Black Girl

“What girl who has had to march to the beat of her own drummer can’t relate to Opal? Or to the things she says such as one of my favorite lines, ‘Looking the way I did, and as poor as we were, how did I not let life run me over?’ Opal’s search for herself, for love, for acceptance is in?nitely relatable. The Final Revival of Opal & Nev is a jewel!”—PAT CLEVELAND, author of Walking with the Muses

“From page one of this ?ctional story that reads like a series of interviews conducted by Rolling Stone, I knew I was in for a treat...This gripping novel reads like an exposé and a tribute at the same time…An unforgettable, exciting, special debut.”—ALY RAISMAN, Gold Medal Gymnast and Advocate for BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB

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