A country western singer’s last tour is fodder for a subtle critique of music-industry sexism
In one scene of Stephanie Clifford’s recent novel, The Farewell Tour, a close friend of main character Lillian Waters dies. Waters, a country western musician, can’t make it to the funeral because she’s got a show scheduled at the Golden Nugget — an extremely important gig in for an artist like her in the 1970s, when the scene is set. It underlines not only Las Vegas’ significance in the music industry at that time, but also the sacrifices passionate women musicians such as Waters must make to succeed.
Indeed, the entire story is constructed around a door closing. The novel begins in 1980 with Waters’ career-ending medical diagnosis. A seasoned musician, who’s had her share of ups and downs, Waters embarks on one last summer tour to pay homage to herself, her fans, and country music writ large.
Toggling between that timeframe and flashbacks to pivotal moments in Waters’ career, Clifford explores the challenges women in music face. Waters struggles to make herself more palatable to listeners by adjusting her hair, clothes, mannerisms — all while racing against time. Bits of her true self occasionally spill out, until she can no longer maintain the industry’s curated version of her.
Many details give the book depth, from the history of so-called “hillbilly” music in Washington state during the Great Depression, to rich descriptions of key country figures throughout the genre’s eras. But the most compelling element is the main character herself. Waters is a refreshing and intense artist whose candor kept me rooting for her at every stage. Her story of redemption, unrequited love, and growth brings the reader along on tour. It’s a gig you don’t want to miss.
The Farewell Tour
by Stephanie Clifford
352 pages, $24.89