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September 27, 2005

Book Notes - Tara McCarthy ("Love Will Tear Us Apart")

Do not judge Love Will Tear Us Apart by its cover. When I picked up this novel, I assumed the fare would be light, considering the subject matter is Siamese twin pop stars and the indie rock journalist assigned to cover them. Tara McCarthy weaves the twins and the writer's relationship into a gripping read that is anything but bubblegum-flavored fiction, and is one of my favorite debut novels of the year.

Here is Tara McCarthy's Book Notes submission for her novel, Love Will Tear Us Apart, in her own words:

I can’t put two words together on a page unless I have music playing. (I just finished a novel for teens that was written entirely to Flaming Lips’ Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, but that’s another Book Notes for another day). What follows is a list of some of the stuff I listened to repeatedly (obsessively) while writing my novel, Love Will Tear Us Apart.

The book follows Sloan Madden, a celebrity journalist who is also an indie-rock aficionado, as she develops an odd relationship with a pair of conjoined twin pop stars whose music she loathes. The twins serve as Sloan’s ultimate foil and, just by virtue of being who they are, they poke and prod at her enough that the walls she’s built around herself begin to crumble. The twins’ story ultimately ends in tragedy, but Sloan’s is a more hopeful tale—at least I think it is.

Britney Spears: "Baby One More Time"
I’d been playing around with ideas for a book about conjoined twins for a while and had been doing a ton of research about Daisy and Violent Hilton, vaudeville performers who were conjoined. This stuff was floating around in my head when I heard a cover of Britney’s "Baby One More Time” by Travis; their stripped down version of the song highlighted the line "I must confess that my loneliness is killing me now." It struck me as such a devastating lyric—but also hilarious, if sung by conjoined twins—and, in that instant, my twins, Fauna and Flora Sparks, were born. I’d also been wanting to write something that was sort of a dark antidote to chick lit—something brutally honest about being single—so it quickly became apparent that the narrator of the twins' story had to be a troubled single woman. I listened to more Britney Spears while writing the book than anyone should…ever.

Zombies: "Friends of Mine"
This song just cracks me up, and it gets a mention in the book when Sloan’s friend Blythe brings her boyfriend along to their dinner without warning. If somebody today wrote an ode to happy couples, with lyrics like "It feels so good to know two people so in love, so in love!" they’d be a laughing stock. The book is partly a journey where Sloan goes from being someone who mocks this song outright, to someone who could conceivably enjoy it without being ironic.

INXS: "Never Tear Us Apart"
Joy Division: “Love Will Tear Us Apart”

Not my favorite INXS song—that would be "Don’t Change"—but I initially titled the book Never Tear Us Apart and give the song a nod in a climactic scene. When Queer as Folk Book 2: Never Tear Us Apart came out, my publisher insisted that the title of my book change, so we went with Love Will Tear Us Apart—a superior song, and, in the end, I think, a more apt title for this particular story. It was oddly fortuitous for me that there was another title/song that carried the same sort of dark legacy with it and also worked for a book about twins.

The Left Banke: "Pretty Ballerina"
I never knew anything by the Left Banke beyond “Walk Away Renee” but a friend recommended their complete recordings disc while I was writing and it seemed somehow right to be counteracting all the Britney with melancholy pop from the sixties. I’ve always sort of bemoaned the fact that I wasn’t born during an era in which I would have enjoyed the dominant music culture. I list "Pretty Ballerina" here because part of the novel has to do with Sloan rediscovering her childhood dreams, one of which was to be a dancer. It’s also just got some great lines about longing and loneliness, like, “Somewhere a mountain is moving/Afraid it’s moving without me.”

Bjˆrk: "Hyperballad"
Fauna’s trying to record a solo album but keeps finding herself writing stuff that sounds exactly like the pop schmaltz she does with her sister. So there’s a scene in which Sloan is trying to play music for Fauna that will broaden her horizons. “Hyperballad” is just so structurally awesome and so joyous and freeing . . . Sloan decides that it’s going to rock Fauna’s world. If there are people on the planet who wouldn’t like this song—or wouldn’t feel something powerful when listening to it—I don’t want to know them.

The Sparks Sisters: "I’m Beside Myself"
Whenever I really needed to make a big push forward with the book, I’d leave New York—one time I rented a cabin in Nova Scotia; another time, I got a room with a view in Atlantic City…and on the drive down to A.C., I sang this song, which my friend Steve and I wrote, aloud the whole way to sort of gear up for a productive retreat. The song’s now up on, as performed by my friend Bradee, and I really believe the Sparks Sisters could’ve had a hit with it.

Dutch Kills: "Anchor"
I heard about this New York band pretty early on during the writing process and I latched onto “Anchor” as the sort of tortured song that I thought Fauna would end up writing as her solo magnum opus. It’s one of the darkest songs I’ve ever heard and I imagined that darkness to be Fauna’s. The lyrics feature heavily in one scene but as I was writing I figured I’d swap in original lyrics eventually. Then when I finished the book, I didn’t want to lose “Anchor” because the imagery of the song had affected the imagery of the book—and even the plot to an extent. So I emailed the band’s singer/songwriter and asked for permission to use the lyrics and I got it. I also ended up marrying him.

see also:

52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)
Book Notes (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)


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