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December 3, 2009

Book Notes - Lauren Grodstein ("A Friend of the Family")

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

A Friend of the Family is Lauren Grodstein's second novel, a riveting story of suburban life's secrets and tragedies. The skillfully drawn characters and their converging plotlines make this one of the year's most compelling works of fiction.

January Magazine wrote of the book and Grodstein's prose:

"There are times when Grodstein’s use of certain notes catches your breath; she’ll mention something in passing, some detail, then mention it again at the moment it will have massive impact, when they’ll bring fresh tension and new dimension to already tense scenes. She plants these moments quietly, with no foreshadowing; you only know they matter when they burst open later. Brilliant."

In her own words, here is Lauren Grodstein's Book Notes music playlist for her novel, A Friend of the Family:

Since meeting and marrying my musician husband, I've been very content to let him take over our household set list; he has exquisite musical taste, you see, while my own runs toward Stephen Bishop's "Tootsie's Theme" and Young MC's "Bust A Move." But I love hearing new music, and I'm grateful Ben has introduced me, and our fifteen-month old son, to breakfast-table or long-drive favorites like Iva Bittova, Jurassic Five, Jim White, Lali Puna, The Sea and Cake, Louise Attaque, Amadou and Mariam, and on and on. It's especially gratifying to come downstairs in the morning and see Ben and Natey dancing their hearts out to the Silver Jews, a band nobody else would ever think to dance to.

But to write this set list, I have to return to a time before Ben, before Natey, before the Silver Jews and a breakfast table of my own. I'm compiling the set list a character in my new novel, A Friend of the Family, would have listened to in high school in 1994, suburban New Jersey, harboring her secret pregnancy – surrounded by people and entirely alone. To write Laura's list, I'm channeling the teenager I was back then, when I was certain music understood me better than any person could.

1. Tori Amos, "Silent All These Years"

"Boy you best pray that I bleed real soon." I mean, seriously.

2. Kate Bush, "Wuthering Heights"

Total escapist melodramatic Gothic pop. She'd listen to this on her Walkman with a cigarette behind the Grand Union when her parents thought she was studying at the library. Sometimes she would imagine Heathcliff and swoon ecstatically, especially when Kate hit those high notes. And then sometimes she'd ground out her cigarette in disgust.

3. Sinead O'Connor, "Feel So Different"

It starts with the Serenity Prayer, then turns into a paean to loneliness. She would have pressed rewind on her Walkman again and again, falling asleep to it more than once while her kid sister slept in the bed across the room.

4. Siouxsie and the Banshees, "Kiss Them For Me"

She would have listened to this when she was happy - dancing around in her underwear in her bedroom or baking chocolate chip cookies for her three little siblings, which she did frequently, because she loved them.

5. Camper Van Beethoven, "Pictures of Matchstick Men"

Another cheerful one, useful for cookie-baking or car rides or playing on her boombox while she took a shower.

6. Joni Mitchell, "Blue"

When she was about six months pregnant and looking for a place to hide, she found her mom's record player and album collection in the basement and dusted them off. She listened to "Blue," the song and the album, played it again and again, but when her mom caught her down there and suggested they listen to the whole album together, Laura shook her head and never came back to the basement again.

7. The Beatles, "Norwegian Wood"

She always liked how this song felt like it belonged to another world entirely, some sort of fairy tale where there were no chairs and people drank wine all the time.

8. The Tragically Hip, "Scared"

She never even knew they were Canadian, but the lyrics made a whole lot of sense.

Lauren Grodstein and A Friend of the Family links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book (the first chapter)

Beth Fish Reads review
BookishNYC review
BookNAround review
BookPage review
Bookreporter.com review
Boston Globe review
Breaking the Spine review
Corner Caffe review
Five Borough Book Review review
January Magazine review
Joseph's Reviews Blog review
Joshua Ferris review
Living Read Girl review
Maurice on Books review
New York Times review
O review
A Point of Reference review
ProJo Arts Blog review
Publishers Weekly review
The Second Pass review
St. Louis Post-Dispatch review
USA Today review
Washington Post review

Algonquin Books Blog guest essay by the author
Beatrice.com profile of the author
Bella Online interview with the author
Bookreporter.com guest essay by the author
Page 69 Test for the book
Publishers Weekly profile of the author
Washington Post review

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)

online "best of 2009" book lists
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
52 Books, 52 Weeks

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