This tender, circuitous novel is a lesson in dedicated music listening, but also in how music brings together two remote individuals in unexpected ways ... The interior first-person narrative meanders through the shadows and light of Matthew's youth. Despite the frequent use of flashbacks, Zellar creates a compelling, authentic portrait of a young man who manages to reconstruct bits and pieces of himself ... Taken altogether, Till the Wheels Fall Off is a beautiful, captivating novel of memory, connection and music.
The writing is hypnotic and memorable. Its imagery is stunning, and its descriptions are evocative ... The book is rooted in nostalgia ... he expands on the bonds that music can forge, along with its ability to spark curiosity and send listeners in new, unplanned directions. The book also serves that function, entertaining and enticing with its details of Russ and Matt’s extensive playlists, along with references to poems and other works ... an affecting, introspective novel that embraces the beauty of memory and the power of resilience.
... like a more rueful, meditative High Fidelity ... This novel has several features that sound fatal: It's relentlessly inward (the insular Matt rarely engages with anyone), backward-looking (about 90% flashback), with minimal plot; the tone is nostalgic, even in the end a little hokey; long sections consist largely of playlists of cool music of the 1970s and '80s. And yet it's a pleasure: smart, with lots of sentence-level snap, and with much to say about the way that music—really any of life's animating pleasures and passions, but especially music, for a lonely child of late-20th-century America—becomes not merely a backdrop or soundtrack, but the thread along which one strings a life ... Can a book that's languidly paced and discursive also be a joy? Yes.