August 13, 2009
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Jonathan Tropper's novel This Is Where I Leave You is a comic masterpiece. A dysfunctional family comes together to sit Shiva for their patriarch, and Tropper's insightful pen draws them with an impressive degree of humanity and pathos. This masterful blend of comedy and tragedy is one of my favorite novels of the year, a book I cannot stop myself from constantly recommending.
My new novel, This Is Where I Leave You revolves thematically around loss, heartbreak, and loneliness. Judd Foxman is having a very bad year. At the age of thirty-four, he discovers his wife, Jen, in bed with his boss, effectively ending his marriage and his career in one fell swoop. Shortly thereafter, his ailing father passes away. Judd returns to his childhood home in the fictional, Hudson Valley town of Elmsbrook, NY, to spend a week with his estranged siblings and mother, all gathered to mourn the passing of his father. But once there, as his wildly screwed up siblings suck him into ongoing family dramas, and his own bad behavior leads him on a series of misadventures, the week gathers a manic momentum all its own, and quickly spirals out of control. Through it all, Judd ruminates on his broken marriage and the emptiness of his life, struggling to embrace the possibilities of an uncharted future.
In assembling the accompanying playlist, I have chosen songs that evoke universal but very specific feelings relating to love and loss and the relentless march of time.
"Here Comes The…" – Butch Walker
Walker conveys all the pain of a breakup, but with his matter-of-fact laundry list of what's involved, he reminds us that this particular heartache is universal, something everyone goes through, and there's comfort in that. Best line: "..Here comes the last time I'm gonna kiss you, and the first night sleeping alone, her comes the hardest thing we've ever known." As a bonus, Pink supplies the background vocals, giving the song a haunting, sexy edge that keeps you coming back for more.
"Still Fighting It" – Ben Folds
As a songwriter, Ben Folds is smart, sad, funny, and evocative, everything I strive to be as a novelist. The truth is, I'd want him to score the entire novel. Sung in the voice of a father addressing his son, "Still Fighting It" is a beautiful song that takes a bittersweet look at fatherhood and growing older, two major themes in This Is Where I Leave You. Best line: "You're so much like me, I'm sorry."
"There Is" – Boxcar Racer
This song perfectly evokes the heartache, urgency, and total immersion of young love. In This Is Where I Leave You, Judd runs into Penny Moore, the pretty, somewhat quirky girl he worshipped in high school, and his memories of that younger relationship are a painful contrast to his current broken marriage. Best line: "In every single letter of every single word there will be a hidden message about a boy that loves a girl."
"Fidelity" – Regina Spektor
Regina Spektor is Penny Moore's perfect musical counterpart. Her voice is equal parts stunning and quirky; she could sing her grocery list and move you to tears. "Fidelity" is a song about self defense of the heart, something with which Penny is very familiar. And the vocals are just killer. You can't stop listening.
"Time After Time" – Cyndi Lauper
This song is playing at the skating rink where Judd has two pivotal chapters with Penny, who is a skating instructor. All skating rinks are trapped in the eighties, and "Time After Time" is the quintessential couples-only skate song.
"Indiana" – Jon Mclaughlin
A soft, lush, piano-driven song that subtly captures the nature of loneliness and regret over the road not taken. Perfect for driving the dark, empty streets of your childhood home while you mourn your father and the end of your marriage.
"Tunnel of Love" – Bruce Springsteen
The Boss turns a classic carnival ride into the perfect metaphor for the fear and baggage adult lovers bring to a relationship. It's a sobering exploration of the wiser, more tentative love between damaged people, and one of the best vocal performances of Springsteen's career. Best Line: The lights go out and it's just the three of us; You and me and all that stuff we're so scared of."
"Orange Sky" – Alexi Murdoch
Love this for its haunting sound and its earnest, mesmerizing chorus: "In your eyes, my salvation lies. In your eyes, in your eyes." Midway through the novel, Judd and Penny go swimming late at night, and this would be the perfect song to be playing in the background.
"Brown Eyed Girl" – Everclear
I just want to state for the record, Everclear is far and away one of the best rock bands out there. I challenge anyone to listen to So Much For The Afterglow or Songs from an American Movie Vol. 1 and not find something to cherish. Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl" is one of the best songs ever written about remembering young love, and Everclear's remake is brilliant; a rocking, poignant take on it that makes you want to simultaneously dance and make love outdoors.
"Mr. Pleasant" – The Kinks
A jaunty, catchy, surprisingly acerbic song about the illusion of stability in marriage and suburban life. Ray Davies is a master of irony, who can make you sing along and tap your toe to some of life's most disturbing truths.
"Faded Dress" – Kay Hanley
Kay Hanley, formerly of Letters to Cleo, is just such a sharp lyricist. "Faded Dress" is a pretty, bitter song about a ruined relationship and realizing you should have known better. Best line: "I should have seen you coming like a speeding car…"
"Then I Met You" – The Proclaimers
A fast, fun love song with the brothers' trademark harmonies about that electric moment when you meet someone and you know that nothing will ever be the same again.
"Holiday in Spain" – The Counting Crows
A brooding song by a master of brooding, about cutting bait and running away from all of your problems, which is something Judd seriously considers when his life first falls apart. Best Line: "Drown my worries down the drain and fly away to somewhere new."
"The First Day Of My Life" – Bright Eyes
Over the course of the novel, Judd finds himself falling for Penny, but he's in no position to act on it. This doesn't necessarily stop him, and things get very complicated. This song, spare and poignant and haunting, manages to be both a lovely affirmation of falling in love, even while incorporating the knowledge of how messy and unpredictable it can be.
Jonathan Tropper and This Is Where I Leave You links:
A.V. Club review
The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent. review
Bagels, Books, and Schmooze review
Boston Bibliophile review
Carolina Gal's Literary Cafe review
Cleveland Plain Dealer review
Dallas Morning News review
Entertainment Weekly review
Feathered Quill Book Reviews review
How to Furnish a Room review
Literary License review
Los Angeles Times review
Marnes and Noble review
Nashville Book Worm review
New York Times review
A Novel Menagerie review
One of the Best Books I've Read review
Publishers Weekly review
USA Today review
also at Largehearted Boy: