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September 16, 2008

Book Notes - Joyce Hinnefeld ("In Hovering Flight")

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

Joyce Hinnefeld's debut novel In Hovering Flight impresses with its attention to its characters' physical environment, while examining the interpersonal landscapes of friends and family just as well.

Philadelphia Magazine wrote of the book:

It all adds up to a story that is deep and believable, largely because Hinnefeld seems to know (and love) that of which she writes — birding, the Pennsylvania countryside, the Jersey Shore, and her engaging characters.

In her own words, here is Joyce Hinnefeld's Book Notes essay for her debut novel, In Hovering Flight:

Kira Willey, “Black Dog”

My daughter was three when I started working on In Hovering Flight in earnest, and so that means no one reading this will likely want a play list of the music that was surrounding me at that time (a lot of Raffi, some Broadway show tunes, occasionally a verse or two from the Wiggles). But I’m grateful to our neighbor and friend Kira Willey, and her daughter Lola, who introduced Anna and me to some great children’s music, like that of Dan Zanes—and also to Kira’s own music, available on her CD Dance for the Sun. I like all of Kira’s music, but I’d put “Black Dog” on this play list because it makes me think of the scene in chapter 16 of In Hovering Flight, when Scarlet and Tom walk Tom and Addie’s dog along the canal path skirting the Delaware River. This is when Scarlet persuades Tom to call Lou about buying some of Addie’s new work. The jazzy playfulness of “Black Dog” sounds like the way I see Scarlet in this scene: still enough of a kid to like to romp with a dog, but also adult enough, now, to accept some emotional truths about her parents.

Sweet Honey in the Rock, “On Children”; Woodie Guthrie, “Hey, Pretty Baby (Who’s My Pretty Baby)”

And really, since motherhood is an undeniable theme in the novel—including its less pleasant sides, like the profound boredom Addie experiences when Scarlet is a baby, the unrealistic expectations a mother faces, the blame that gets hurled when there’s a problem (as with Addie’s friend Cora and her son Richard)—I do want to include two children -related songs that I listened to a lot when my daughter was born. Both are on a Sound & Spirit CD called Welcoming Children into the World, and both feel closely connected with Addie and Tom, for me: Sweet Honey in the Rock’s “On Children,” which, with lyrics like “Your children are not your children, they are the sons and the daughters of life’s longing for itself,” perfectly expresses Addie’s attitude toward Scarlet, and Woody Guthrie’s “Hey, Pretty Baby,” because of course Addie and Tom would love Woody Guthrie, and it’s hard not to love this infectious song.

“Thoreau and the Wood Thrush Transcript-1154” and “Bobolink Migration Transcript-1466” from BirdNote.org

The sounds that accompany the writing of this novel for me aren’t those of songs so much as those of birds; bird song is a huge part of the book, and maybe the two most important songs are that of the wood thrush (the bird Addie hears on the first morning of Tom’s class, and also a bird I hear right outside my house each summer) and the bobolink, whose song is described by Roger Tory Peterson in this way: “Song, in hovering flight and quivering descent, ecstatic and bubbling, starting with low, reedy notes and rollicking upward” (hence the novel’s title). You can hear both songs—and learn about how they’ve influenced some pretty impressive writers in the past—by searching KPLU 88.5 (Seattle)’s terrific BirdNote site.

Amy Beach, “Hermit Thrush at Morn” and “Hermit Thrush at Eve”

A lot of classical music has been inspired by bird song. In his children’s book Willie Was Different, Norman Rockwell says Handel, Weber, and Gounod all wrote music inspired by the wood thrush. I haven’t tracked down any of these, but I do love listening to composer Amy Beach’s piano pieces, “Hermit Thrush at Eve” and “Hermit Thrush at Morn” (available on a CD called Under the Stars, performed by Joanne Polk). Apparently Beach wrote these pieces while she was at the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire in 1921, and I think she reproduces the hermit thrush’s song (different from that of the wood thrush, but still nice) beautifully. They’re also lovely pieces to listen to, AND she is a woman composer. Addie would approve.

Odetta, “If I Had a Hammer” and The Breeders, “One Divine Hammer”

Addie’s difficult in lots of ways, and it’s hard to imagine much modern or contemporary music that would pass her test. For her I’ve settled on Odetta singing “If I Had a Hammer” (though my favorite song on The Essential Odetta is “Another Man Done Gone”). But because I see myself as falling somewhere between Addie’s sometimes strident, sixties-fueled passions and Scarlet’s more muted, late eighties/early nineties response to her parents, I’d follow Odetta up with a song for Scarlet, a bit of ironic commentary maybe: The Breeders’ “One Divine Hammer” from Last Splash.

Bonnie Rideout, “Sleepy Maggie” and “Yell Yell”; Dolly Parton, “Little Sparrow”; Hot Club of Cowtown, “Draggin’ the Bow” and “Sally Goodin’”

Tom is an ornithologist but also an amateur musician, so there should be lots of music for him. To conjure his fiddle playing I like to listen to Bonnie Rideout playing Scottish fiddle tunes—maybe “Sleepy Maggie” or “Yell Yell” on Celtic Circles. And to conjure the Robert Burns songs Tom sings to Addie: anything on the Musicians of Edinburgh’s The Art of Robert Burns. Other songs that make me think of Tom: Dolly Parton’s “Little Sparrow” on her CD of the same name, “Draggin’ the Bow” and “Sally Goodin’” on Hot Club of Cowtown’s Tall Tales.

Neil Young, “Cinnamon Girl” and “Harvest Moon”

I’m very influenced by places, and I always seem to be writing about a place that I’ve left. In the case of In Hovering Flight, I was actually living in the eastern Pennsylvania world where much of the novel is set—but I wrote a good bit of it during a sabbatical spent in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Though a representative example of Latin American or Spanish Colonial music would make more sense for Santa Fe, it’s a place that will be forever represented by the voice of Neil Young for me, because my first stay in New Mexico happened when I was in college, in the early eighties, when I was a passionate Neil Young fan. My friends Ryil and Brian took me on a day trip from Albuquerque to Santa Fe (where, as I remember it, Canyon Road—home to Santa Fe’s high-end galleries today—was still a dirt road), and I was sure we would find Neil Young’s ranch and there he would be, maybe with Joni Mitchell visiting, sitting in the living room strumming guitars. Anyway, the song that most means Santa Fe to me is “Cinnamon Girl.” But to move up to the current era, or at least closer to it, and back to Addie and Tom, I have to confess that when I listened to “Harvest Moon” recently, imagining Addie and Tom dancing to this song outside their little house on the creek in the moonlight, I started to cry.

Grant Lee Buffalo, “Bethlehem Steel”; Brave Combo, “The Chicken Dance”

I can even get sentimental about Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where I live with my husband Jim and daughter Anna. Friends in Santa Fe introduced me to the music of Grant Lee Buffalo while Jim, Anna, and I were living there in 2005, because of his song “Bethlehem Steel” on Copperopolis. I love that song’s slow climb from steady, gentle rhythms to a loud, brash refrain—echoing the sounds that must have emanated from the old Bethlehem Steel smokestacks along the river here, day in and day out, years ago. I think it fits here too, because of Addie’s contempt for the city’s industrial history and her certainty that living along the Lehigh River, in the shadow of those smokestacks, has contributed to the illness of Cora’s son Richard.

And for another Bethlehem reference, I’ll recommend Brave Combo’s version of “The Chicken Dance” on Group Dance Epidemic. As a child who’s also growing up in Bethlehem, my daughter is intimately acquainted with “The Chicken Dance”; to understand this, you have to visit the polka tent at Bethlehem’s yearly MusikFest in the summer. Though the “Chicken Lady,” who wears a lovely dress with white feathers (I kid you not) has retired and moved to Florida, she sometimes returns to put on her dress and dance with the children in July.

And no, I’m not as worried about coal emissions as Addie was, now that they don’t make steel in Bethlehem anymore. Now the big local worry is the casino that’s being built on a parcel of the old Steel land.

The Clash, “London Calling”; Pink Floyd, “The Wall”; any and all Bob Dylan

Besides bird song and fiddle music and Robert Burns, In Hovering Flight does make one other brief reference to music—to the things Scarlet, Bobby, and Richard listen to as young teens on the Jersey shore. So this play list must include Pink Floyd’s “The Wall,” The Clash’s “London Calling,” and anything by Bob Dylan (even, as the novel announces, music from his “mystifying born-again Christian phase”—which I’ll confess I listened to in high school, because even in the late seventies in rural Indiana, anything Bob Dylan did was cool, and we were all mystifying Christians back then, in that place).

Neil Young, “You and Me”

And while I’m reminiscing about high school and reliving the past, I have to return to Neil Young’s Harvest Moon for one more song, this time in honor of Scarlet and Bobby: try listening to Young and Nicolette Larson singing “You and Me” without pining just a little bit for one of your early loves.

Robin Holcomb, “Deliver Me”

Addie’s death, and her fervent desire for a natural burial on land she loved, are the heart of In Hovering Flight, and so the last song on my list, Robin Holcomb’s haunting “Deliver Me” from her 1990 CD Robin Holcomb, is for Addie.

Joyce Hinnefeld and In Hovering Flight links:

the book's website
the book's blog
the author's book tour
the book's page at the publisher
Reading group guide for the book

Booking Mama review
Genre Go Round review
Llew's Reviews review
Mainstream Fiction review
Newpages.com review
Philadelphia Magazine review
Publishers Weekly review
San Diego Union-Tribune review
Will Read for Food review

Allentown Morning Call profile of 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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