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November 14, 2007

Book Notes - Joshua Kornreich ("The Boy Who Killed Caterpillars")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that is in some way relevant to their recently published book.

The Boy Who Killed Caterpillars is one of the most refreshing novels I have read all year. The story of one afternoon in eight year-old boy's life is told poetically through the voice of the child. Joshua Kornreich's stream of consciousness style captures the innocence and vulnerability of its subject well, and his spare sentences and paragraphs add to the book's undeniable charm.

In his own words, here is Joshua Kornreich's Book Notes essay for his novel, The Boy Who Killed Caterpillars:

Rock music serves an important function in The Boy Who Killed Caterpillars, and while references to Mick Jagger and the “scary guy from KISS” are featured prominently in the narrative in one form or other, it wasn’t just the popular tunes of the Stones and Kiss that were “playing” in my head as I wrote the “lyrics” for my novel. My book isn’t mainstream-screenplay-friendly per se, especially given its paucity of dialogue and its experimental structure, but I’ve occasionally fantasized about turning The Boy into a “silent” surrealistic rock opera for the silver screen. For now, that’s just a fantasy of mine, but I appreciate the opportunity to play out that fantasy in some small way here on Largehearted Boy and offer readers a would-be playlist, or soundtrack if you will, for my novel.

So… let’s rock.


Track 1: “I’m a Boy,” The Who

“I’m a boy, I’m a boy, but my mom won’t admit it…” The lyrics of “I’m a Boy” deal with the issues of boyhood and early sexual identity, issues introduced in the “Gay” chapter where the boy explains how he came about learning the dual meaning of that very word. Also, what’s great is that I think the cheeriness of the music of “I’m a Boy” also matches that “other” meaning of the word “gay.” And I like how that cheery innocence belies the grisly events that are about to unfold in the novel.

Track 2: “Bugs,” Pearl Jam

“I got bugs, bugs in my hair…” It’s a horribly dissonant song, which is why it’s perfect for the “Eggs” chapter in which the boy describes his head lice. And it’s an eccentric song, and a bit unsettling, which corresponds with the mood the novel takes on.

Track 3: “In My Tree,” Pearl Jam

Aside from the obvious association between this song’s title and the chapters involving the boy’s treehouse, there’s this sense of intensity and elevation and power in the musical pattern, a sense of a boy surveying the landscape.

Track 4: “Something,” The Beatles
Track 5: “Main Title and First Victim,” John Williams

While The Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand” might have been used here as the boy grabs his mother’s hand for dear life in the “Pool” chapter, I think “Something” captures the oedipal attachment to his mother much, much better: “Something in the way she moves…” But then you have the father diving into the deep end, stirring up fear and anxiety, and I think John Williams opening orchestration for Jaws would work great at that moment – it’s scary and playful at the same time, which is how I intended that chapter to be.

Track 6: “It’s Only Rock’n’ Roll (But I Like It),” The Rolling Stones
Track 7: “Shattered,” The Rolling Stones
Track 8: “Electrolite,” R.E.M.

The “Patio” chapter is where the boy’s (and his mother’s) passion for the Stones is introduced. It’s also where he pokes fun of his father’s explosive bowel movements, changing the word “shattered” to “splattered.” We also get a glimpse of how this boy-loner relishes the spotlight in the imaginary shoes of his rock ’n’ roll idol, and I think “Electrolite” – “you are the star tonight” – really works well in conveying that notion.

Track 9: “Strawberry Fields,” The Beatles

For the “Straw” chapter that deals with the boy’s scuffed Darryl Strawberry rookie card… Okay, maybe that association is tenuous at best, but I’m keeping it on the list!

Track 10: “Rock and Roll All Nite,” Kiss
Track 11: “Satan’s Bed,” Pearl Jam
Track 12: “The End,” The Doors

“Rock ‘n’ Roll All Nite” gets actual “playtime” on the “set” of my novel, so that one requires little explanation. Maybe you have that tune playing as the boy tiptoes toward his father’s bedroom. Then, when the boy enters the bedroom, the song flips to “Satan’s Bed,” as his diabolical father gets down and dirty with his companion. “Satan’s Bed” evokes this feeling of dizziness and chaos, so it goes really well with the scene. From there, it can segue into “The End,” and you have this sort of apocalyptic sex scene going on in which the life of one of its participants gets terminated, and you have the shattering end to the boy’s innocence as he witnesses that and discovers his father’s little secret. Plus, the song’s musical tempo accelerates as it reaches its end, which corresponds really well with the father’s tempo as he nears climax. And, of course, that song is so oedipal that I just have to use it somewhere, and I think it works best here.

Track 13: “Run Like Hell,” Pink Floyd

“Run Like Hell” – that’s exactly what the boy does before he slides down the top of the banister of the staircase, and then later, as the boy breaks his father’s deadly grip and runs for the treehouse.

Track 14: “In the Air Tonight,” Phil Collins

This tune goes well with the showdown between the boy and his father as they’re about to square off in the treehouse.

Track 15: “Main Title (from Star Wars),” John Williams

After having vanquished all his foes, a triumphant boy sits on the toilet that was once his father’s and proclaims himself “man of the house.”

Track 16: “Used to Love Her,” Guns N’ Roses

I think this would be an appropriate closer as the credits roll. “I used to love her, but I had to kill her…”

Joshua Kornreich and The Boy Who Killed Caterpillars links:

the author's website
the author's profile at Publishers Marketplace

The Pennsylvania Gazette review

also at Largehearted Boy:

Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
directors and actors discuss their film's soundtracks
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2007 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)


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