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October 29, 2008

Book Notes - Jayne Pupek ("Tomato Girl")

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

Jayne Pupek's debut novel, Tomato Girl, impresses with the degree of humanity of the characters. The voice of Ellie, the eleven year-old narrator, is true and authentic, and Pupek paints her, her parents and her father's girlfriend, the "tomato girl," with rare compassion as well as empathy for their troubled lives.

In her own words, here is Jayne Pupek's Book Notes essay for her debut novel, Tomato Girl:


Writers, like cats, are blessed with multiple lives. We have our "real" lives, complete with all the things that typically make up a life; we also have the fictional lives of our characters, which may or may not be similar to our own. The challenge lies in being able to move between these lives. For me, music is a tool that eases that shift in consciousness.

My novel, Tomato Girl, is narrated by eleven year old Ellie Sanders, a girl caught between her mother's mental illness and her father's obsession for the pretty teenager who sells produce in his general store. Ellie's father has always been the constant in her life, the one person Ellie could count on to manage her disturbed mother. When her father's attention turns to Tess, the young "tomato girl," Ellie is left to watch over a mother who is gradually going mad.

For the playlist to accompany Tomato Girl, I selected songs that focus on mental illness, depression, and/or suicide.

1. "Only Happy When It Rains" by Garbage. This song became Garbage's breakthrough single and appears on their 1995 self-titled debut album. A remastered versions of "Only Happy When It Rains" also appears on Garbage's greatest hits album Absolute Garbage (2007). This is a personal favorite. I think vocalist Shirley Manson possesses one of the most beautiful and haunting voices in rock 'n roll's history.

2. "Basketcase" by Green Day. This song, from the band's third album, Dookie, earned the group a Grammy nomination in 1995. Written by frontman Billie Joe Armstrong, the song is about his struggle with anxiety. Basketcase is certainly a term that comes to mind when one thinks about Ellie's mother.

3. "Numb" by Sia. I first heard this Australian-born singer on the Six Feet Under HBO series finale soundtrack and immediately bought her album, Colour the Small One. With her angelic voice, Sia reminds me quite a bit of the Canadian singer-songwriter, Sarah McLachlan. "Numb" perfectly describes a depressed state of mind.

4. "Where Is My Mind?" by Pixies. Isn't this the million dollar question? This song by the American alternative rock is on their 1988 album Surfer Rosa. The song was written by frontman Black Francis and is said to be inspired by his experience of being chased by a fish while scuba diving. I find that a perfect metaphor for madness.

5. “Brain Damage” by Pink Floyd. No playlist on mental illness would be complete without this classic from British progressive rock band Pink Floyd's 1973 album, The Dark Side of the Moon. The insanity-themed lyrics are based on the mental instability of former Floyd frontman Syd Barrett. The song opens with the line, "The lunatic is on the grass..."

6. "Crazy" by Seal. This song appeared on the English soul artist's self-titled debut album, Seal (1991). "Crazy" is one of his biggest hits, both in the United Kingdom and the United States. It since has been covered by several artists, including Alanis Morissette. I'm a fan of Alanis Morissette's music, but prefer the original version of this song.

7. "Little Earthquakes" by Tori Amos. This title song comes from the 1992 solo debut album of American singer-songwriter Tori Amos and features the confessional lyrics, "Give me life, give me pain, give me myself again." Music doesn't get any better than this red-headed siren at her piano. She is my favorite musician. I listen to her frequently, especially when I'm writing.

8. “Climbing Up the Walls” by Radiohead. This track features atmospheric insect-like noises and drums combined with the melody of Yorke's voice and multiple string instruments. OK Computer, released in 1997, is the third album by the English alternative rock band.

9. “Lithium” by Nirvana. This track by American grunge band Nirvana was written by frontman Kurt Cobain. The song recounts the story of a man who finds religion as a last resort after the death of his lover. "Lithium" appears on the band's second album Nevermind. "I'm not gonna crack," the final lyrics of the song, are particularly ominous. In 1994, Cobain was found dead in his home in Seattle, the victim of a self-inflicted shotgun wound to the head. In Tomato Girl, Ellie's mother also cracks. As an aside, Cobain's Journals is an intriguing read. Ellie's mother wrote, too: she wrote bad poetry.

10. "Crazy" by Patsy Cline. Although I'm not a huge country music fan, I would be remiss if I didn't include this song. Cline was born in a small town in rural Virginia, much like the fictional town in which Tomato Girl is set. "Crazy," the famous follow-up to her hit, "I Fall to Pieces," was written by Willie Nelson. Cline died at age 30 in a 1963 plane crash at the height of her career. I can see Ellie's mother as a less talented and more disturbed version of Patsy Cline.

11. “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” by Metallica. This song is from the heavy metal band's 1986 album Master of Puppets. The lyrics describe being trapped in insanity, or on a more literal level, being incarcerated in a mental asylum. Ellie's mother spent some time in an asylum.

12. "Everybody Hurts" by R.E.M. Originally released on the band's 1992 album Automatic for the People, this song speaks to pain we all endure. Ellie's mother lives in a mad, dark world, a place that is full of pain.

13. "Scarecrow" by Beck. I listen to more alternative music than any other style; Beck is a favorite. This song appears on Beck's 2005 release Guero. In Tomato Girl, Ellie refers to her deteriorating mother as a scarecrow, which makes this song a perfect fit.

Jayne Pupek and Tomato Girl links:

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

A 'n' E Vibe review
Blogcritics review
Breaking the Spine review
Caribou's Mom review
Educating Petunia review
Feminist Review review
cindylovesbooks review
Greatest Uncommon Denominator review
The Internet Review of Books review
Louisville Courier-Journal review
Pajiba review
The Pedestal Magazine review
Presenting Lenore review
Quarterly Conversation review
Rhonda's Corner of the World review
Weave Magazine review
Zinta's Reviews review

1st Books essay by the author
A 'n' E Vibe interview with the author
Blogcritics interview with the author
Breaking the Spine interview with the author
cindylovesbooks interview with the author
Eclectica interview with the author
Emma Larkins review
Faster Than Kudzu (Joshilyn Jackson) interview with the author
A Good Blog Is Hard to Find guest post by the author
GoodReads interview with the author
LibraryThing interview with the author
Lit*Chick interview with the author
Press 1 interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Why Obama (musicians and authors explain their support of the Democratic presidential candidate's campaign)
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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