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January 13, 2009

Book Notes - Merrill Markoe ("Nose Down, Eyes Up")

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

Merrill Markoe has always impressed me with her ability to find the humor, absurdity and even the truth in everyday occurrences. In her novel, Nose Down Eyes Up, there are talking dogs and dysfunctional humans, and all have voices that are as believable as they are amusing.

The Boston Globe wrote of the book:

"Markoe convincingly conjures the voice of her superannuated-adolescent narrator, but it's the dogs' voices - naive, sweet, sardonic, conniving, persistent, hopeful, irreverent, annoying - that stick with you. Markoe is cynical about animal communicators, but, as she demonstrated in her previous novel, "Walking in Circles Before Lying Down," no one channels dogs more amusingly than she does."

In her own words, here is Merrill Markoe's Book Notes essay for her novel, Nose Down, Eyes Up:

Nose Down Eyes Up is the second novel I have written that is awash in talking dogs. The book is about Gil, a handy man who at 47 thinks of himself as the world's oldest 22 year old man. He lives with his four companion animals, Jimmy, Fruity, Cheney and Dink. I know. I know. I should probably knock the dog stuff off already. But I like writing dog/human conversations. That is because in real life I spend most of my day in a herd of dogs. No matter what I am doing, or what room I am doing it in, there are four dogs lying around me, staring at me, fascinated. I find their distinctly different point of view about the ordinary details of the life we share to be a constant source of amusement. For instance, every day when we go for a walk, there are certain seemingly random clumps of weeds and patches of ivy that they all instantly agree is riveting. I like to imagine what their explanation of this extreme interest would be if I conducted an in depth interrogation. I admit that a lot of what I eventually conclude is pure speculation, but I also work to enhance our mutual communication with a constant amount of supplementary reading about their origins as a species as well as their bio-chemical, physiological and psychological tendencies. It was kind of incumbent upon me to do so since they've made it clear that none of them are willing to meet me half way.

My playlist is a kind of a movie sound track for Nose Down Eyes Up that would introduce the characters . I will, of course, start with the dogs..

1. "Those Serene and Rapturous Joys" by Henry Purcell, a sixteenth century composer, would be my choice for Jimmy's theme. In particular, movement three which is entitled " Behold the Indulgent Prince is Come." This baroque song is from a collection of Purcell's that is called "Complete Odes and Welcome Songs". The very idea of "Welcome Songs" strikes me as perfect for dogs. I used to have a dog named Lewis who had what I referred to as a Greeting Disorder. I often thought that if he were a songwriter, his big hit would have been called "I'll never stop saying hello." In Nose Down Eyes Up, Jimmy is the name of the alpha of Gil's four dogs pack . Jimmy is kind of the Tony Robbins of the group in that he instructs the other three, through a series of lectures, on the finer points of effective manipulative techniques to increase their personal power. The overture from this same piece, entitled "Who Can from Joy Refrain?" and the movement that is called "Welcome Welcome Glorious Morn" should be playing whenever any of the dogs get up from a nap.

2. I Wanna Be Your Dog" by Iggy Pop
I would feel compelled to also include this Iggy Pop classic, perhaps when introducing the other three dogs. The song wasn't written about dogs, per se, but."Now we're gonna be face to face. And I'll lay right down in my favorite place. Now I wanna be your dog." is too great a set of lyrics to pass up. Apropos of nothing, I met my actual dog Jimmy when he was stranded at my vet's boarding facility after his father went to prison on 34 counts of fraud. At our initial meeting, he made a friendly but cautious approach but I swear I heard him say "Hey—If you want I'll be your dog." Shortly after that I took him home.

3. "Should I Stay or Should I Go" by The Clash
This would be playing on the radio when we first meet the main character Gil. The intense and boisterous energy of this song plus the lyrics "If I go there will be trouble. If I stay it will be double" pretty much sums up Gil's life so far.

4. "Reconsider Me" by Warren Zevon
I have always liked the extremely common but not often sung about overview of love addressed by this song. I constructed the character of Gil in an attempt to understand the guys for whom disappearance and re-appearance, (then rinse and repeat,) is a romantic way of life. In Nose Down Eyes Up, Gil has stop and start romances with a couple of women, including his ex-wife. I like to write about the kind of people who screw up their relationships for questionable reasons, under the guise of complex rationalizations, only to show up a short while later claiming to have changed completely. I find that weirdly funny. "Reconsider Me" would be a good theme song for these people.

5. "99 Problems" by Jay-Z
Whenever it comes on the sound system at the gym, which is pretty much every time I go to the gym, I so happy that I can do three times as many sit ups. In particular I love how JAY-Z says "Hit me!" after he sings "I got 99 problems but a bitch ain't one. (Hit me!)" In the romantic ebb and flow of Gil's romantic life, this song would fit nicely.

6. "Suzanne" by Leonard Cohen
Sara is Gil's patient girlfriend and this song would be her theme because it embodies the romantic way she sees herself as well as the way she hopes she is viewed by the outside world. Sara is an animal communicator with a poetry tinged sense of herself and her life. She would hear lyrics like "She brings you tea and oranges that come all the way from China" and "She gets you on her wavelength and she lets the river answer she has always been your lover" and she would think, "If somehow Gil had been Leonard Cohen, this is the song he would have written about me."

7. "Music to Watch Girls By" by Al Hirt or Xavier Cugat
Although I have always found this sixties song , which Amazon calls ‘easy listening' and ‘swingin cool', rather annoying, it is nevertheless perfect music for when Gil's ex wife, the very attractive, flirtatious and sexually active Eden, first comes in to view at the supermarket. It would kind of describe how the world around her sees her.

8: "Amy Amy Amy" by Amy Winehouse
I am always amused by songs where the singer refers to herself by their own name. But the tone of a lot of the Amy Winehouse ouevre describes how Eden sees herself; sexy, narcissistic, irresponsible, self destructive. The whole Back to Black album is perfect for Eden to listen to when she is getting dressed to go out and wants to boost her own mood. In particular "I'm No Good." Though Eden is now actually a wealthy suburban housewife and mom, she prefers to think of herself as a hell cat, dancing and drinking in clubs long in to the night, riding in expensive sports cars, hair blowing in the wind, unable to resist taking advantage of the passion she effortlessly inspires in men.

The song "Amy, Amy,Amy" contains the lyrics: "Masculine he spins a spell, I think he'd wear me well." Which is kind of the perfect seductive female's anthem. Although the thing I personally like best about the song is the phrase that comes right after that when she sings "Where's my moral parallel?" I am not really sure what she means by that but its inclusion makes the song take such a sharp left turn toward the cerebral that it becomes a lot more intriguing. To me, at least. That's the phrase I end up singing all day long. But perhaps that is because of my life long problem mixing"brainy" up with "sexy."

9. "White Christmas" by Bing Crosby
I have a friend in Chicago who told me she plays Christmas CDs, and only Christmas CDs, all year long, when she drives in her car. I thought that was such a great detail that I vowed to work it in to a book someday. But it got cut out of this book in one of my many editing sessions. Though that makes it fall in to the category of back story, it's still the kind of detail that offers the essence of Gil's fantasy-filled, delusional, narcissistic mom. The whole White Christmas album would be good music cues for her.

10. "Undercover Angel"
This number one song from the seventies has an actual role in the plot of Nose Down Eyes Up. That makes it the theme for Gil's brother Steve who sings it several times during the book.

Merrill Markoe and Nose Down, Eyes Up links:

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

Booklist review
Boston Globe review
Los Angeles Times review
Publishers Weekly review

also at Largehearted Boy:

Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Online "Best Books of 2008" Lists
Largehearted Boy Favorite Novels of 2008
Largehearted Boy Favorite Graphic Novels of 2008
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
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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