Review: The Last Refrain by John Abbott

The Last Refrain, Sweatshoppe Publications 2013

Review by Sarah Newman: 

     When you hear the term “family band,” you might think of gleaming white smiles and matching, sparkling outfits hiding an underlying layer of dysfunction. But Shiloh Red is a real rock n’ roll band, and the Mausolf family’s dysfunction doesn’t hide from anything or anyone.

     John Abbott’s The Last Refrain is the story of a family holding on to the dream of becoming famous. Denied a record contract, Band leader, father, and alcoholic Ken Mausolf calls on his devoted daughter Dana, his son Lucas, and his wife Brianna head back out on the road for another tour from fairground to fairground.

     Despite being the story of a man struggling not to be the kind of deadbeat parent his own mother was, The Last Refrain is also about doing what one loves. Ken is so resigned to his musical pursuit that his family has no choice, but to love it as well.

     At drift and at a loss as to what they really want for themselves, Brianne, Dana, and Lucas do everything to keep that dream alive. The siren song isn’t fame, per se, but a need to fit in, be accepted, be loved, and above all be a normal family. Unfortunately, there are a lot of childish things Ken failed to put down, and his family follows an immature man right into the jowls of “celebrity.”

     No stranger to grit, the Mausolfs don’t live in a cookie-cutter Midwest. Place in this story can be wild and inhospitable. It is contrasted beautifully with the organized, civilized, successful Chicago, some kind of diamond in the rough. 

     Music is interwoven with the pacing. Abbott’s characters travel on the wind, like Romani, changing course at a moment’s notice. It’s something informed by the weatherworn patriarch. What Ken lacks in direction he makes up for in focus, in the dogged pursuit.

Besides the usual burdens of the family band, like issues of personal space and individuality, the Mausolf's face a lingering question. Are dreams, like family, something to be both followed and left behind?

About the Author:

John Abbott is a writer, musician, and English instructor who lives with his wife and daughter in Kalamazoo, Michigan. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Potomac Review, Georgetown Review, Hawaii Pacific Review, Arcadia, Two Thirds North, upstreet, Midwestern Gothic, Fast Forward: A Collection of Flash Fiction, Poydras Review, and many others. His first novel, The Last Refrain, was just released by Sweatshoppe Publications, and his poetry chapbook, Near Harmony, was just released by Flutter Press. For more information about his writing, please visit