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April 25, 2008

Book Notes - Will Lavender ("Obedience")

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

Will Lavender's debut novel, Obedience, is a mystery with a unique plot: students in a mysterious professor's Logic & Reasoning class must solve a puzzle before a fellow student is murdered. Lavender makes it work, filling the well-written mystery novel with gripping drama and a stunning conclusion.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"A complex conspiracy involving the writing of a book drives Lavender’s compelling debut, a thriller that will strike some as a mix of John Fowles’s The Magus and Stephen King’s The Shining.”

In his own words, here is Will Lavender's Book Notes essay for his novel, Obedience:

Who killed the mixtape? It wasn't murdered by the digital as much as it was left behind by a generation hellbent on forgetting. It's a throw-away age, and you can feel it in the music. When I was in college everything was sampled. Dots and loops, beats and curves, the language of sound plagiarized and reinvented by DJs wearing Oxfords and cuff links. At the turn of this century the controversies on television were all about thieves. Napster, stolen riffs, the rhythm of plagiarism. Kids began hooking themselves to consoles and feeding songs directly into their veins. I couldn't even see their earbuds because the wires went invisible. You could walk into a lab at 4:00 in the morning and there they would be, bobbing their heads to what looked like binary code from across the room.

My novel is a campus thriller. I went back in my memory as I was writing the book, tried to get everything right about the college experience. The soundtrack to Obedience is not one I was listening to as I wrote (I write in silence), but one I dredged up in the process. Nostalgia as research. I remembered those stone rooms, the retro posters curling in humidity, the nights spent in front of the amber glare of a computer monitor as the stereo pulsed gently in the corner. Mostly I remembered the songs, because we get nothing right in literature if we fake the music.

A sampling of what I was listening to a decade ago:

Pavement, Slanted and Enchanted
I'd never heard anything like it, those screaming preambles, those shifting chords. Everything seemed to be fractured, split and then returned to form. Good boys can be destroyed by Pavement. Sometimes I think that everything I've listened to since has been influenced by my attempt to bring back the experience of hearing this album for the first time.

Neutral Milk Hotel, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
The finest album in my collection. Strange, hypnotic, beautiful, at times almost religious. An album that I could hear echoing over the quads as I walked around campus.

Smashing Pumpkins, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
The brutality. I remember listening on audio tape in my first car as I moved my stuff off to college. They don't make albums like this anymore, where the songs almost change genre one to the next. I wore out the tape and bought it on CD, found myself always jumping back to "Zero." A masterpiece.

The Dave Matthews Band, Under the Table and Dreaming
You can measure a band's stamp by the level of hate one year in. DMB went from in to out in the time it takes America to realize twelve-minute songs have to be radio cut. "Under the Table" is the most commercial, perhaps, of anything they did-but it is also the most memorable. I remember putting it on a loop that first night on campus. I remember the echoey, haunting chords of "Warehouse." The first poetry I ever wrote was written to this disc.

Pulp Fiction, Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Strange music for an epic. We bought it in rebellion. Our professors hated the movie, felt perhaps the coming of a dangerous sort of cinema, and so we listened. Soundtrack as emblem. (The new new wave never came; turned out Tarantino got it more right than his imitators.) It's interesting that it is the music as much as the film that remains part of the zeitgeist almost fifteen years later.

Will Lavender and Obedience links:

the author's website
the book's page at the publisher

A.V. Club review review
Edmonton Journal review
Entertainment Weekly review
Louisville Courier-Journal review
New York Daily News review
New York Times review
St. Petersburg Times
Tampa Bay Tribune review
Velocity Weekly
Wall Street Journal review

The Page 69 Test of the book

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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