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March 30, 2010

Book Notes - Dawn Raffel ("Further Adventures in the Restless Universe")

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

Dawn Raffel poetically explores the intricacies of domestic relationships in her new short fiction collection, Further Adventures in the Restless Universe. These stories are as lyrically impressive as they are moving, and Raffel's respect for her readers' intelligence to put together the stories' puzzle pieces works to great advantage.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"In her elegant second collection (after the novel Carrying the Body), Raffel finds lyrical appeasement in the everyday concerns of raising children, being a dutiful daughter and wife, and simply enduring one's family."

In her own words, here is Dawn Raffel's Book Notes music playlist for her short story collection, Further Adventures in the Restless Universe:

Around the time I first started writing, I read an interview with Paul Simon that had a profound affect on me. I'm sure I'm going to misquote this because I have a fairly creative memory, but the gist was, "If the ear receives it, then the heart will too." When I write, I pay a lot of attention to cadence, to the overall acoustics of the sentences, and less attention than most writers to the traditional who, what, when, where and why. I've never felt it's that important to know the name of the city where the story is taking place, or exactly what year it is; sometimes I don't give characters names, defining them instead by their relationships (the mother, the daughter, the son…). I would rather the reader come away feeling something new than knowing something new.

That I sometimes get tagged "experimental" or "minimal" is understandable but I don't think of my work that way; there's a reservoir of emotion under the line. I've twice worked with filmmakers who've set my stories to edgy, eerie soundtracks. Steven Richter made a short film in Portuguese from "The Myth of Drowning," a story in this collection, and set it to Pedro Noizyman; Luca Dipierro did the book's trailer based on the story "The Air and Its Relatives" using music by Nicholaus Richter de Vroe. (As far as I know, there is no connection between the two Richters.)

For me, though, the soundtrack would be more melodic, more familiar, more emotionally saturated, since much of the collection is rooted in my childhood. It would have to include my father singing. There would be an exuberant rendition of him riffing on "Yes, Sir That's My Baby" while carrying me piggyback through our three-little-pigs starter house. Also on the soundtrack: "Serenade" from Sigmund Romberg's operetta The Student Prince and "One Alone" from The Desert Song, also by Sigmund Romberg; sometimes my father would sing these, sometimes he would listen to make-it-yourself records of himself singing them in college productions before the war, where years on an airbase damaged his hearing. My father had a beautiful tenor voice and those songs carried mystery and longing and sadness and hope and subtle, unnameable emotions.

The soundtrack would need to include my immigrant grandparents singing Hungarian children's songs whose names I never learned and which are lost to me now, and my older sisters' endlessly played 45s—Petula Clark's "Downtown," holding out the promise to a young Midwestern girl of an out-of-reach glamour, a fizzy cure for loneliness, and The Four Seasons' "See You in September," and Gary Lewis and the Playboys' "This Diamond Ring," making heartbreak swoony and inviting, juxtaposed with the music of silverware clattering onto a table or into a sink.

Given that the book moves back and forth through time, any soundtrack would have me singing sleepily to my children in the middle of the night—walking the floor in the dark to endless verses of "All the Pretty Horses," "Hush You Bye," "Dream a Little Dream"…whatever I could remember a few lines of.

The soundtrack would end with my mother singing "Sweet Kentucky Babe." I have no idea were she got that from, and I went to some trouble finding the lyrics, a few of which are in the last story in the book. I'll never know why she chose to sing that song every night. For me it was the song before sleep—before the dream, before departure.

Dawn Raffel and Further Adventures in the Restless Universe links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry
Oprah Magazine reading group guide for the book
the book's video trailer
excerpt from the book ("The Myth of Drowning")

Brown Alumni Magazine review
Emprise Review review
More review
Publishers Weekly review

Brown Daily Herald profile of the author
Caroline Leavittville interview with the author
Emerging Writers Network guest post by the author
Recommended Reading interview with the author
Shelf Awareness interview with the author
Word Riot interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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

52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly highlights of comics & graphic novels)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly highlights of new books)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from this week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists

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