August 24, 2007
Andrew Bomback's debut novel, You're Too Wonderful To Die, combines loss, faith, and a return to innocence with the story of Dr. Alex Glassman. Bomback is a physician by trade, and his experience adds clinical realism to the book. Surprisingly touching without ever being sappy, American publishers should give this book a chance (not to mention Hollywood). Of course, the book's title (a lyric taken from Neutral Milk Hotel's "Song Against Sex") is what initially caught my eye...
It’s a real treat to write the Book Notes for my first novel. I listen to music whenever I write and often use specific songs to motivate scenes, so this is right up my alley. Also, I’ve always had a secret desire to write my own music blog, but unfortunately have never had the time or computer expertise to follow this dream. Instead, I often email friends about songs and insist they download them from the blogs where I’ve found them, so I’ve sort of blogged-by-proxy. I am grateful to Largehearted Boy for giving me the chance to “blog” for a day.
You’re Too Wonderful to Die is the story of Alex Glassman, an intensive care doctor in North Carolina whose first child is stillborn. As his life starts to crumble under the weight of this tragedy, he befriends Esme Jeffries, a young woman with cystic fibrosis who’s listed for a lung transplant. In chronological order, here are the songs that influenced some of the key scenes in the book.
Hit the Ground Running by Smog
My brother, Mark, first introduced me to this song. He is a screenwriter who will someday get his wish that this song plays over the opening credits of a movie. It’s definitely the song I picture playing at the beginning of the book, when Alex jogs through the streets of Carrboro while his wife, Audrey, sleeps. The little girls singing the chorus are a painful reminder of the baby he’s just lost.
The Geese of Beverly Road by The National
I listened to Alligator at least a hundred times while writing this book. Although some of the songs on Boxer (Apartment Story and Start a War, in particular) fit this novel better, I like the suburban malaise that this song depicts. This is the song that I hear when Alex takes Audrey to the airport, knowing that her trip to France is just an excuse to get away from his brooding.
I Can’t Stop Loving You by Kitty Wells
Audrey is a North Carolina native raised on traditional country music. I often test my wife’s indie rock knowledge, asking her if she can recognize which band is playing from our stereo, so I had Audrey play the same game with Alex with country music. This is from a scene when they’re sitting in front of their stereo listening to how Kitty Wells takes breaths after long notes.
Song Against Sex by Neutral Milk Hotel
One of two songs that are crucial to the book (if I had my druthers, I’d attach this song and Petra Haden’s song, discussed below, along with a reprint of J.D. Salinger’s “For Esme with Love and Squalor” to each copy of the novel). In the scene that inspired all that comes before and after it – the scene I had in mind when I first set out to write this book – Esme interprets a lyric from this song as a message to her from god. Haven’t we all done the same at some point?
Born Secular by Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins
Religion plays a big role in this book, as Alex struggles with the role that faith plays in doctoring and his life. When Alex stands outside his hospital’s chapel and reads its biblical inscription, and when he later marches through the hospital convinced that Esme will get a new pair of lungs, this beautiful and inspirational song is what I hear.
Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye by Leonard Cohen
Again, I have Alex sitting next to his wife by their stereo, trying to guess who’s singing. He assumes country and goes for Johnny Cash. It’s Leonard Cohen. This is the song. The scene is one of the saddest in the book, and this song, in my opinion, is one of the best sad songs of all time.
God Only Knows by Petra Haden
The other song that is crucial to the book. The scene that made my first readers cry is when a children’s choir sings an a capella version of the Beach Boys song. I always get goose bumps when I hear Petra Haden singing this song, and that’s the effect I wanted to convey in this scene.
Chariot by Page France
I discovered Page France while writing this book, trying to find good religious-themed music. These guys are incredible – at times on their new album they sound almost like Dylan, but on Hello, Dear Wind they get the Neutral Milk Hotel vibe better than anyone else. This song, which I’ve put on virtually every mix CD I’ve made over the past year, is what I want playing as the book ends. The singer pleads, “So we will become a happy ending,” and that earnest desire to be happy again is what Alex and Audrey are experiencing as they embrace.
Andrew Bomback and You're Too Wonderful To Die links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
guest book reviews
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2007 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)