Chloe Boulton | Content Writer
In his debut novel, Love Is a Mixtape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time, Rob Sheffield eulogises his late wife, Renée Crist. Sheffield, a rock and pop culture guru and Rolling Stone contributing editor, tells the story of his musical coming of age, and how music brought he and Renée together.
This memoir follows Sheffield through his adolescence, his meeting Renée, their marriage, and eventually his grief at her sudden passing in 1997, after only knowing each other for eight years. Sheffield writes an honest, heart-breaking but hilarious book that captures the first and second loves of his life, music and Renée.
There are three overarching themes of Love Is a Mixtape, love, loss and the soundtrack. Each chapter is prefaced by the track list of a mixtape made by either Sheffield, Renée or one of their friends. These are genuine tapes from Sheffield’s life, though he rarely relies on them to tell the story; they are starting points for each chapter and act as snapshots that capture an era of music gone by.
In Love Is a Mixtape, Rob Sheffield writes a story with music at its core, without the pretension or the barriers that one may expect from a music writer. But whether you like music or romance, there is something in this book for you. Even if you do not like hearing other people’s love stories in memoirs, this one is unlike any other. There is no great fanfare or drama, nothing at all to dislike. It is just Rob, Renée and their mixtapes.
Parts of this memoir are gut-wrenching, and touchingly intimate. As a reader there are points where it can feel as though Sheffield’s grief is something in which you have a personal stake. For each light-hearted anecdote that Sheffield writes, there is a shatteringly painful one to match, because at the centre of this novel is the story of two people who did not have enough time together. In the first chapter, Sheffield writes that on their fifth wedding anniversary, he and Renée played David Bowie’s Five Years on repeat, shouting in unison the line ‘Five years, that’s all we’ve got!’ – and it was, in the end. He goes on to say ‘That was a good night. There were a lot of good nights. We got more of those than we had any right to expect, five years’ worth, but I wanted more, anyway.’
Sheffield writes with humility and great self-awareness. He knows he was lucky, but he knows he could have been luckier too. Sheffield writes loss incredibly well; he captures the best and worst parts of love and puts them next to the darkest emotions that come with grief, whilst making it all seem worthwhile.
Everything that matters about life is in this novel: love, loss, family, music.