September 15, 2010
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Over the past ten years or so, I have discovered many talented short story writers through the University of Georgia Press's Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction series. Last year's winners (whose books have just been published), Linda LeGarde and Jessica Treadway, are both gifted authors, and I recommend both their books highly.
Jessica Treadway's short fiction collection Please Come Back To Me is filled with evocative tales of loss and the aftereffects of choice. These compelling stories are filled with complex characters that Treadway always draws truthfully and with rare compassion.
The Chicago Tribune wrote of the book:
"The characters in these stories have something to be afraid of, whether it's themselves, the people they love or ought to love, or the inconstancy of memory. Beautifully written and fully imagined, Treadway's work reminds us that the short story form is alive and well. "
As the title of the collection may suggest, my stories and novella reflect the theme of loss – of people, relationships, dreams, and illusions the characters would prefer to hang onto, even when to do so puts them at psychic or physical risk. Yet I hope that like poignant, rousing, or otherwise evocative music, the stories don't just depict the pain of loss in one dimension, but include the richness inherent in strong feeling. I'm interested in exploring the choices people make thinking that they are saving themselves from distress; it may be true in the short term, but ultimately (and on some level, I think, they must know this), they are increasing it.
Two of the songs I chose for my playlist (which covers five out of the eight stories in the book) come from Suzanne Vega, because I always feel so moved when I'm listening to her.
"The Queen and the Soldier" – Suzanne Vega
I pair this story with "Oregon," a story about a woman who denies and ignores her deepest desires because she is afraid they are "wrong," and also afraid that they couldn't be fulfilled, if she did allow them. Vega's song depicts a queen who lives on a hill, far removed from the destruction of the war she has ordered. A soldier comes to see her and says that even though he realizes she will probably punish him by death for it, he wants to ask her why she is perpetuating the senseless battles beneath her. He invites her to confess to him how lonely she is:
"'Tell me how hungry are you? How weak you must feel
As you are living here alone and you are never revealed
But I won't march again on your battlefield'
And he took her to the window to see.
And the sun, it was gold, though the sky, it was gray
And she wanted more than she ever could say
But she knew how it frightened her, and she turned away
And would not look at his face again."
She can't bear the hope she feels when she dares to believe she could love the soldier and be anything other than the cold-hearted monarch everyone knows her as. So she does have him killed, because it's what she knows and this makes it safer, the same way my character refuses to let herself acknowledge what it is she yearns for.
"Blood Makes Noise" – Suzanne Vega
The urgent beat and tempo of the music, and the psychic distress of the speaker in this song – "But blood makes noise/it's a ringing in my ear/Blood makes noise/And I can't really hear you/In the thickening of fear" – evokes the experience of the character in my story "Testimony," who tries to deny to herself the truth of a trauma she probably suffered in childhood; at the end, she can no longer block it out anymore. The memory rushes back at her in a manner reminiscent of the lines "The din in my head/It's too much and it's no good."
"This Town" – The Go-Go's
I actually wanted to quote from this song in the text of my story "Shirley Wants Her Nickel Back," but was unable to secure permission to use the lyrics. It's the song the main story's character, Norine, used to sing in high school with her two girlfriends, driving around town on Friday nights. "Bet you'd live here, if you could, and be one of us" the song goes, and Norine, whose life in the present has taken a turn for the worse, and who no longer has any contact with those friends, remembers wistfully that she and the other two girls "loved being part of an us, and they loved believing that their us was something special, to which other people might want to belong."
"Bad Boys" – Inner Circle
We all know this as the theme song from the TV show Cops, which my character Nina, in the story "Deprivation," is watching in a kind of stupor because her infant son won't stop crying, so she and her husband have not been able to sleep properly. When she isn't watching TV and trying to get her baby to sleep, she's also reading Camus' The Stranger, in which one man kills another and seems not to feel any remorse for it. So in my story, this weird melange of images keeps occurring to Nina, including fantasies about smothering her child just to get him to shut up, and she hears the lyrics "Whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do when they come for you?" through the prism of her own guilty conscience.
"Love Radiates Around" – The Roches
What I love about this song is the purity of the speaker's feelings about how lucky he is to have the woman he shares his life with; the song recalls to me the feelings my character Chris has about his wife, Dorrie, in my novella, "Please Come Back To Me." When he first meets her, he can't believe what a good person she is, and then when he's convinced of that, he can't believe that she wants to be with him – he doesn't feel worthy. "My chance for true happiness/It waits upon her kiss/How can it be, it feels so good to know all this." I also like that the lyrics suggest that the love they share comes from "beyond this world," which dovetails nicely with the motif in the novella of Dorrie wondering – after Chris dies, leaving her a young widow – if there's any kind of an afterlife, or if she is just foolish to contemplate such a thing because part of her wants to believe that she didn't lose him entirely, especially as he left her with an infant son to raise on her own.
Jessica Treadway and Please Come Back To Me links:
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 comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists