Checker and the Derailleurs

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Checker’s fans fill the clubs at night, and his fellow band members idolize him. Rahim, the band’s Iraqi saxophonist, is in danger of being deported by the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Checker convinces his employer, Syria the Artiste, to marry Rahim. Syria jumps at the opportunity to have a live-in cook and houseboy but refuses to consummate the union. Checker, with his dreamy demeanor, has managed to avoid involvement with women, but he harbors a burning passion for Syria, who is mature, sophisticated, and twenty-nine. Rachel, the band’s sweet, nubile singer, offers herself to Checker. When he politely refuses, she tries to commit suicide.

When the band gets an offer from a record company, Checker decides he is not motivated by money or a chance at fame as a rock ’n’ roller. The other band members, knowing that Checker is their ticket out of the play-for-beer music scene, are incensed. While Checker seeks solace and love with Syria on the floor of her workshop, the band members destroy Checker’s drumset and throw his beloved bicycle, Zefal, into the river. Checker tries to end his life when all attempts to analyze his self-worth are futile. When he recovers, Syria proposes that they together pursue their dreams of art and love. Checker becomes a successful recording star, and Syria bears his children.

CHECKERS AND THE DERAILLEURS, loaded with terminology that will quickly sound as outdated as “groovy” and “far out,” will undoubtedly stir up memories of that budding cynicism and despair felt at the age of eighteen or nineteen. Although the dialogue is painfully stilted and unconvincing at times, the premise of loss and renewed life is well developed.