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March 4, 2010

Book Notes - Lorraine Adams ("The Room and the Chair")

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

The Room and the Chair is Lorraine Adams' followup to her highly praised debut novel, Harbor. Her second novel is a vivid exploration of newspapers and the intelligence community in the age of terrorism, and is filled with fully-realized characters who haunt long after the novel is finished.

The Los Angeles Times wrote of the book:

"Indeed, one of the triumphs of this book is that it's a war novel that's mostly about women: Mary, Mabel and Baby as well as Vera, the reporter and truth seeker. Though often unwitting tools and even more often thwarted, they are the fulcrum of the book, lifting what might otherwise be a dazzling thriller into the realm of literature."

In her own words, here is Lorraine Adams' Book Notes music playlist for her novel, The Room and the Chair:

Soundtrack for the novel

"Yell Fire" by Michael Franti & Spearhead
"Time to Go" by Michael Franti & Spearhead
"I Know I'm Not Alone" by Michael Franti & Spearhead
"Sweet Little Lies" by Michael Franti & Spearhead
"One Step Closer to You" by Michael Franti & Spearhead
"Everybody Ona Move" by Michael Franti & Spearhead

Franti began in hip hop and now incorporates jazz, reggae, rock, you name it. He defies categories. I think of these Franti songs as the core of the soundtrack for the novel. I certainly listened to him while writing the book. Some of the Yell Fire album can be knee jerk anti-war but it's also rawer and smarter than the pacifist claptrap I can't stand. "Revolution never come with a warning/ Revolution never send you an omen/ Revolution just arrive like the morning/ Ring the alarm wake up from the snoring/ They're telling you to never worry about the future/ They're telling you to never worry about the torture/ They're telling you will never see the horror/ Spend it all today and we'll bill you tomorrow." These lines from the title track are some of the signal lyrics for me. But all of the cuts feel as if they're at the heart of the novel. Franti did the soundtrack for Body of War a documentary about a paralyzed Iraqi war veteran. His own documentary, I Know I'm Not Alone was filmed in Iraq and Palestine. After the time I spent in Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan I feel such kinship with him.

Theme songs for Will Holmes, The Chair

"Letters from Home" by John Michael Montgomery
"Hurt" by Johnny Cash

The self-reckoning in the Cash ballad is ruthless and righteous; I always think of it as belonging to the moral universe of the military intelligence commander in the book named Will Holmes. In particular the lines, "Everyone I know, goes away in the end," and "You can have it all, my empire of dirt," fit Will. I first heard Letters from Home when a special forces operative I spent a lot of time with reporting the novel turned on the radio and got teary listening to it. It's country, which was the only music this guy liked. (He was the basis for Will Holmes.) The song is too sentimental for me, but it captured the paradox of the man (and the character). He was chill, never boastful or macho, a man who'd spent his life in constant proximity to death. Yet he had the emotional coloration of a small town teenager when it came to music. Sometimes when I felt the character of Will slipping away from me, I'd listen to this song.

Theme songs for Capt. Mary Goodwin

"Girl in the War" by Josh Ritter
"Ah Mary" by Grace Potter and the Nocturnals

These are rock songs. They've always been the theme songs for Mary, an F16 fighter pilot who is one of the central characters in the book. The book opens with her crash. The last sentences of the book are about her. She's a complicated figure--which is why "Ah Mary" seems so right as her theme song. As the song unfolds you realize that Mary's a killer and, in a way that works in a song but wouldn't in a novel, a metaphor for America. "She's skilled at the art of deception and she knows it/ She‘s got dirty money that she plays with all the time/ She waters the garden but maybe she just likes the hoses/ She puts herself just a notch above humankind/ Ah Mary, she'll bake you cookies than she'll burn your town/ Ah Mary, ashes, ashes, but she won't fall down./ She's the beat of my heart/ She's the shot of a gun/ She'll be the end of me/ And maybe everyone." On the other hand, Mary's also someone who might die in combat.

The Josh Ritter song always embodied the side of her that I feared would be harmed. "I've got a girl in the war/ The only thing I know to do/ Is turn up the music/ And pray that she makes it through./ The keys to the kingdom/ Got locked inside the kingdom/ And the angels fly around in there/ But we can't see them./ I've got a girl in the war/ I know they can hear me yell/ If they can't find a way to help her/ They can go to hell."

Theme song for Lt. Frank Partnoy

"Bang the Drum Slowly" by Emmylou Harris

Frank is Mary Goodwin's wingman. I always think of her singing this song to him. Unlike Letters from Home, this is a country song that's emotionally astringent. It's one of the most haunting war ballads I've ever heard.

Theme songs for Hoseyn

"Somali Udiida Ceb (Somali Don't Shame Yourself)" by Maryam Mursal

Hoseyn is an Iranian nuclear scientist. Although this Somali track has nothing of traditional Persian music or the Los Angeles Farsi scene at all, its refrain and rhythms feel as if they should be playing when Hoseyn is on the screen.

Theme song for "Baby" Patrice Edwards

"Soldier" by Destiny's Child and Lil Wayne

One of my characters is a 13-year-old prostitute named Baby. This is her theme song. She's a witness to some military scenes that she shouldn't have been. The ironies of the lyrics given her role in the book have always been interesting to me.

Theme song for Mabel Cannon

"Wild Women Don't Get the Blues" by Lyle Lovett

One of my characters, a columnist named Mabel, is less than faithful to her husband and tends to drink more than is socially acceptable. She's also a ferocious interpreter of Washington pieties. I think of this as her theme song.

Theme song for Vera Hastings

"Jesus Walks" by Kanye West

Vera is the night cops reporter who gets assigned to cover the crash of Mary Goodwin. She's is a devout Roman Catholic. This is her theme song. It's also a track that plays as the credits role on the movie Jarhead based on Anthony Swofford's memoir of the Gulf War.

Lorraine Adams and The Room and the Chair links:

the author's website
the author's blog
excerpt from the book review
The Daily Beast review
Library Journal review
Los Angeles Times review
MostlyFiction Book Reviews review
New York Times review
Publishers Weekly review
San Francisco Chronicle review
Washington Post review

Armchair/Shotgun interview with the author
Bookmarks interview with the author
The Nervous Breakdown interview with the author
Three Guys One Book interview with the author
Wall Street Journal 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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