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April 17, 2008

Book Notes - Joanne Proulx ("Anthem of a Reluctant Prophet")

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

Before I started the Book Notes series, I would finish every book I started, regardless of its appeal or literary quality. Now that a new batch of books arrives daily I have to be more selective. I give every book 50 pages to grab my attention, and most are put aside at that point for good.

Joanne Proulx's debut novel, Anthem of a Reluctant Prophet, caught my interest with the first page, with its seemingly simple setting of teenage boys hanging out and smoking dope, a scene so masterfully drawn it seemed more screenplay than novel. With her first novel Proulx shows herself to be a master empathetic storyteller with the tale of a seventeen year-old boy who foresees the deaths of others.

The Toronto Star wrote in its review of the book:

"Proulx is, in other words, a talented inhabitor of people unlike herself. Given the paucity of such writers – even Norman Mailer's recent stint as a Nazi demon in The Castle in the Forest wasn't too much of a stretch – every new writer that surfaces so blessed should be cherished."

In her own words, here is Joanne Proulx's Book Notes essay for her debut novel, Anthem of a Reluctant Prophet:

While writing Anthem of a Reluctant Prophet, I’d buckle my kids into the car every morning and tear out of the driveway, one hand on the wheel, one hand jabbing a CD into the player. Half an hour later the kids would be at school, ears ringing, and I’d be at my desk, miraculously ready to write. For me those thirty minutes with The White Stripes, or Papa Roach, or Johnny Cash, were a raucous form of meditation, the best kind of drug. The music moved me out of my everyday mind and into the creative sweet spot in my brain where, this time round, I found Luke Hunter, my very own large-hearted boy. It was great fun conjuring up a seventeen-year-old, prophetic stoner, harnessing his chaos into story, streaming his energy onto the page. Still, the best thing about finding Luke; he loved all the same music I did. Here’s what moved us back in 2003.

American Music - The Violent Femmes

American Music was the working title of the novel, and the song served as a sort of musical prologue to the work. I always imagined it playing in the background as Luke skateboarded into the first scene, with the song’s increasingly frenetic pulse foreshadowing the craziness that’s coming. If I ever got lost along the way, this is the song that brought me back.

Fat Lip - Sum 41

So seventeen, it’s sick.

Heart Shaped Box - Nirvana

Luke discovered Nirvana when he was nine. It was his first, formative, completely-blow-my-mind music. He begged his parents for an iPod so he could listen to Smells Like Teen Spirit every minute of every day. He wore his Kurt Cobain t-shirt until it was worn so thin you could see his nipples either side of Kurt’s head. It is impossible to overstate the importance of this band in Luke’s life. And maybe mine.

Keep ‘Em Separated - The Offspring

Go up and play it in your room. Play it loud. I dare you not to dance. Come on. I dare you.

Get Free - The Vines

You have to watch this one on Youtube. Have a fire extinguisher handy, just in case your gear bursts into flames. And don’t worry, the wild-eyed lead singer’s all better now, thanks.

Hurt - Johnny Cash

A haunting remake of the Trent Reznor/Nine Inch Nail’s song. This one could really make a day at school a little less gleeful for the kids. Still, it got me where I needed to go. Whenever Luke’s particularly lustreless, you’ve got to know, Johnny Cash is lurking in the background.

Last Resort - Papa Roach

If I needed a blast of teen rage, this was the song. Between Angles and Insects also worked well. However, after the band hit it with their Infest CD, they apparently started hanging out at the Playboy mansion, and I predicted that their next offering would be lacking. And it was. Rage was their thing, and what twenty-year-old male could stay mad at the mansion? Ever Weezer looked pleased to be there.

Behind Blue Eyes – Limp Bizkit

A sucky-boy, oh-woe-is-me sort of song, but if I followed this one up with Pearl Jam’s Better Man, Luke would reveal his pain to me. With the right music, softening him up was cake.

Sex and Candy - Marcy Playground

And there she was, like double-cherry pie
And there she was, like disco-superfly
And there she was, in platform double suede
And there she was, like disco lemonade

Luke uses the lyrics to woo the girl. He gets her onto the dance floor, but not much further. Which was his fault entirely, not the song’s.

Any album, any song - The White Stripes

Favourite quote from an Anthem review, “The White Stripes hover over this novel like rocking guardian angels.” (Montreal Gazette, August, 11, 2007) They do. I’ll take their brand of salvation any day.

Joanne Proulx and The Drop Edge of Yonder links:

the book's website
the book's page at the publisher
the book's video trailer

Genre Go Round review
Georgia Straight review
Perfect Books review
Reading Rants! review
Toronto Star review
What to Do When You Come in from the Barn! review

Maisonneuve interview with the author

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 (2008 Edition)
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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