February 18, 2009
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published books.
The Rose Variations may be Marisha Chamberlain's debut novel, but her experience as both playwright and poet are evident in this book that captures the mid-70's and the feminist movement of the day through its perfectly drawn imperfect characters.
Rose Buoyed Up and Cast Down
Rose MacGregor, composer, the title character in my novel, lives in music—it's her livelihood and her life. And it's a good thing she's got music, because, as she goes through her variations, trying to get a life and love, she blows it, oh so many times. Trial and error, with an emphasis on error, is her way, and so she is frequently in need of the grief/solace/brokenness/buoying up and casting down that can be found in music.
As she packs up from grad school in Philadelphia to go out to her first teaching gig in St. Paul, Minnesota, a place she has never seen, she fortifies herself by listening to Antonin Dvorak's New World Symphony, which is more Iowa-related than anything to do with Minnesota, and also Aaron Copland's Ballet, Billy the Kid, which would be, uh, Arizona and New Mexico—the far West, not the Midwest. But she's in a westerly direction.
Broke when she arrives in St. Paul, she has only her cello on which to play music: Bach's Suites for Solo Cello, of course, and also solo cello works by Krenek, Bloch and Cassado. With her first teaching paycheck she buys, in addition to lady professor clothes, a tape recorder, ear phones, and blank cassette tapes (this is 1975, before iPod, before Walkman) so she can use a borrowed stereo to make cassettes of recordings in the college library of the Mozart and Verdi requiems, which she plays in her sublet bedroom to help her fall asleep at night, music in tune with her mood after she makes the disastrous mistake of going to bed with her new friend, Alan, a fellow music professor who happens to be gay.
When she meets and begins to fall for stone mason Guy Robbin, she staves off making love to him, at least for awhile, by listening to a scratchy recording of Gregorian chants sung by the Benedictine Nuns of St. Cecelia's Abbey, Suffolk England. An English Ladymass by Anonymous Four would suit her mood perfectly, if only it had been in existence then.
She lets herself go in Guy's arms, and then it's rock'n'roll and soul: Aretha Franklin, (You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman; Carole King, I Feel The Earth Move, Joni Mitchell, You Turn Me On, I'm A Radio, which she plays when Guy is with her. When he's not around, she plays women's music, love songs all about being in love while holding on to independence: Cris Williamson, The Changer and The Changed; Holly Near, You Can Know All I Am.
Ah, but she gets pregnant by accident, ends the pregnancy and breaks up with Guy. So she goes for several months playing only minimalist music: Philip Glass, Strung Out.
When her teaching job ends and she goes out to the women's communal farm for the summer, the only music available is what they make themselves, but fortunately several excellent musicians there are only too happy to play Rose's work, and so she has the unusual treat of herself being the Top 40 at the farm that summer.
Part Two of the novel jumps ahead six years. Rose now has a steady gig now and enough money to listen to whatever she wants. On her Walkman, a mix tape of songs for long distance running: pounding movie theme music from Chariots of Fire and Blade Runner.
When she falls in love with her piano tuner, Graham, she imagines she's coming down from her high classical music horse to be a simple country girl in love by listening to Bluegrass: the Stanley Brothers, Rank Stranger, and early Emmylou Harris, Too Far Gone. She doesn't really notice that Graham is more into rock of a brainy sort: Talking Heads, Cross-eyed and Painless, Marianne Faithful, Broken English, Neil Young, My My Hey Hey.
Where they both can agree, Rose and Graham, is on Bruce Springsteen's album, The River. The hard luck love story in the title song, all five throbbing minutes of it, covers their time together like some sort of strange protection.
Marisha Chamberlain and The Rose Variations links:
the author's website
the author's book tour events
the publisher's page for the book
Goodreads page for the book
Goodreads page for the author
LibraryThing page for the book
Shelfari page for the book
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
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)