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October 28, 2010

Book Notes - Kevin Guilfoile ("The Thousand")

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

Kevin Guilfoile proved himself a master storyteller with his brilliant debut novel, Cast of Shadows. His second novel The Thousand is a true literary thriller, a book to be admired for both its writing and captivating plot. Combining secret societies, a girl with superhuman powers, mathematics, and music, The Thousand is one of the year's finest thrillers.

The Thousand is the perfect book to sneak some literature into the hands of fans of Dan Brown or Stieg Larsson.

The Chicago Tribune wrote of the book:

"The Thousand is thrilling, intellectually stimulating, and has some of the most vivid characters in contemporary literature.""

In his own words, here is Kevin Guilfoile's Book Notes music playlist for his novel, The Thousand:

Music plays a pivotal role in The Thousand, both symbolically and as an engine of the narrative. Much of the story centers on the search for a lost manuscript of a modern completion of Mozart's Requiem in D Minor. Another subplot follows a mentally ill painter who fronts a rock band called the Bat Wing Vortex, and who might be a pawn in an elaborate art con game. The main character, Canada Gold, has difficulty listening to music with any kind of complexity due to a medical treatment that left her with heightened powers of observation and perception. Throughout the book she feels alienated by her detachment from the world of art.

Anyone who's been observing the Chicago music (or the outsider art) scenes for any length of time will recognize that the character of Burning Patrick is very loosely based on Wesley Willis, the one-time homeless artist and poet who was a fixture in the city's clubs throughout the 1990s. I met Wesley many times and while he's gone now, I hope Patrick honors him properly. Chicago could use another character like him.

When I did Book Notes for my first novel, Cast of Shadows, I was so determined not to explain my own work of fiction that I ended up talking exclusively about the songs, almost ignoring the novel entirely. This time, I thought I'd let the book speak for itself. Each of these songs is connected in my head to a character, and for each selection I've provided a brief selection from the novel. The result is something like an excerpt in fragments, organized by the playlist rather than by chronology. I don't think there are any major spoilers here. Out of context they are more like scenes from a movie trailer.

As Wesley would say, Rock over London. Rock on Chicago. Harlem Furniture, You'll Like Our Style.

"The French Inhaler," Warren Zevon

After her father's murder, she saw a therapist, who had asked about her special gift. Nada replied that it was more like an unforeseen consequence. A side effect. A superpower. Even now, less than a mile away in her new and almost empty apartment, somewhere among her few possessions, was a treasured reprint of The Amazing Spider-Man #1. Her own story wasn't unlike that of Peter Parker, who was bitten by a radioactive arachnid and subsequently discovered he possessed odd and useful abilities. She and Peter were both afflicted when they were in their teens, and Nada's spider still had its teeth stuck in the back of her head.

And like Peter, her powers came packaged with complications.

"Dies Irae Sequence" from Mozart's Requiem in D Minor, Orchestre de Paris, Daniel Barenboim conductor

"I believe art is a repository of truths," Gold said. "Art is where truth hides from politics and religion and law and history and war and lust and greed and time, anything that seeks to subvert and tarnish and exploit it. Art is a safe in which man keeps his soul."

In Heaven, Pixies

"Mathematicians are an odd lot," the professor said. "Did you know we are statistically more likely than any other classification of scientist to believe in heaven? And do you know why that is? Because we see it. Every day. A world so perfect, so logical, that in comparison our actual existence seems like a confusing dream. An illusion. Perfection exists in our notebooks and on our whiteboards and our computer models. Ask any mathematician which world seems more real--the perfect world of numbers or the disordered, incoherent mess all around us"—Cepeda waved his hands at the room—"the universe revealed to us by our eyes and ears--and almost to a man we will vote for the numbers. What most people call reality is just the overmatched mind trying to make sense of a universe too vast for it to understand. As the world appears more and more complex, we find ways to deny its complexity and make it simpler. Our brains fill the huge gaps in our knowledge with myths and delusions in order to create a world through which we can navigate. A world in which we feel secure. Numbers are up to the task by themselves, however. You and I are blind and deaf, but numbers can see and hear."

"Hallelujah," Leonard Cohen

He recalled Solomon's invocation of God when he referred to the requiem. Reggie had always thought it curious that killers so often became religious in prison. Wouldn't the best hope for a murderer like Solomon be no God at all? No final judgment? No one to say definitively that what he had done unto others had been wrong?

He supposed the guilty and the faithful were always looking for one more appeal.

In fact, Reggie found time nearly every afternoon to run his hands over these pages, and what was he looking for if not God? In the presence of misfortune, the everyday bad—an illness in his family or an unsympathetic jury in deliberation—agnostic Reggie had nothing to pray to except for the mystery perhaps locked inside this score.

"I Broke Out Your Winshield," Wesley Willis

The buzz of conversation took a dip with the lights and a big ball of a man walked out to an unacknowledged roar. Burning Patrick was large, larger than Wayne, and he was wearing a ripped black parka, even in the heat, and a dirty green backpack. He gripped a wire-bound notebook tightly with both hands, the way you might hold a steering wheel in mid-skid. He approached the microphone and began to sing without preamble, and the band tried to catch up to him with a rushed intro.

"Breakdown Dead Ahead," Boz Scaggs

He followed the teenagers another mile down the strip and watched them turn into the large, empty parking lot of a chain grocery store. Sitting on the hoods of half a dozen old cars were all the kids Wayne knew from his own high school days—the gearheads and the bad girls and the bored girls—stuck in a town built to entertain people older than they were. One kid was changing his oil. Another, who had a mustache and a muscle shirt, was waving a broken radio antenna, chasing a giggling pony-tailed girl around an old green Impala.

Wayne parked a non-threatening distance away, across thirty or so faded diagonal parking lines. He grabbed the entire contents of the glove compartment and stepped out of the car. He opened the trunk to see if it contained anything useful or incriminating. A baseball cap and glove and bat from a softball game several months ago. "You have to change everything," Peter had said. "If you always eat Arby's, stop eating Arby's. If you don't have a beard, grow one. If you have a beard, shave it. If you never wear hats, start wearing them."

He put on the cap but ignored the bat, which could be useful but also menacing. Then he backed away from his beloved Mustang, driver's door open, car running. When he knew the kids were watching he threw up his hands and backed away slowly, into the darkness, under the overpass, toward the highway.

"The Power Is On," Go Team

They all laughed. Then just as the mirth had subsided, just in that pause after a good joke when the conversation resets, the breath that lets more serious subjects take shape, the room lurched hard to the right and Nada grabbed the table to keep from falling. Plate and silverware and crabmeat and rémoulade were tossed to the floor by the force of her hand and she watched them tumble to the ground in slow motion. Molly asked, "Are you all right dear," and Nada tried to say, "I'm fine; it's just the heat," but the words, so clear in her head, never assembled in her throat, and soon the floor, like the deck of a ship in a storm, tossed her again, the other way this time, and she folded forward, head speeding toward the table's beveled edge, her hands not quick enough to stop the impact.

"After the Gold Rush," Neil Young

"The single most authoritative daytime sighting in history happened at O'Hare. Do you know about it?" The boy indicated that he did, but closed his book to listen nevertheless. "November seventh, 2006, at four-thirty p.m. More than a dozen people--ramp workers, maintenance crew, pilots even—all observed a metallic disk between two and eight meters wide hovering about fifteen hundred feet in the sky over gate C-17 at O'Hare Airport. After a few minutes, it accelerated straight upward, punching a distinct hole of blue sky into the low ceiling of clouds."

Rhodes continued, "A pilot allegedly opened the windscreen of his plane and took a digital photo, which has been suppressed by the airline. The FAA denied any knowledge of the event, until a Freedom of Information Act request by the Chicago Tribune proved they had been informed months earlier. They knew about it and then they lied about it.

"And I understand why they did it. With power comes responsibility, and anything that can't be understood must be suppressed until people are ready. Most people aren't ready for the truth about what it was that hovered over gate C-17 at O'Hare."

"Parklife," Blur

Della screamed again and Bobby gripped his gun. He could see the other driver, clearly drunk, kegs of beer and a generator still loaded into the box, airborne with every rough bounce. With a grin, he backed up, and Bobby prepared for another hit, but the driver redirected the front of his truck toward the gate and slammed down on the accelerator. The crowd roared approval, even halting their own mayhem to watch.

The gate stopped the truck with a horrible crunch, but as the Ford backed up, Bobby could see a significant bulge in the black iron bars. The truck slammed into it again. Again. Again. The Whole Foogees cheered each assault with increasing volume.

And then, with a long, low rev, a ramping of rpms, the totaled front end of the other pickup screeched and sprung forward and rammed a final time into the gate, tearing the upper right side of it from its hinge. An exuberant crowd rushed forward, dozens of them crawling over the smoking truck and crippled fence on all fours, like spiders, like insects, a metamorphosed army of giant ants.

"Bag of Hammers," Thao

That made her laugh, possibly out loud. Complicate things? Things were already hopelessly complicated, beyond any possibility of comprehension. She was like a mouse born into a house where the doors tasted like trees and the countertops felt like rocks and there seemed to be an infinite amount to discover, but for all the thinking and exploring and questioning the mouse might do, she could never hope to understand how that house was conceived, how it was built, or for what purpose. And she realized now that her whole life had been like that: Everything she thought she understood was really something else, created for some other purpose. She had been that mouse and the universe was that house, able to be explored but never understood.

Now she was flying again, for real this time. No, she was being carried. She could feel the fabric of his shirt sleeve against her thighs under her short hemline—what dress was this?—and another hand around her shoulders and she could smell him, his sweat and cologne, her face pressed against his neck and she knew he was carrying her back to the bed, the hospital bed, and she remembered that they wanted to cut her open and take out her spider, but she'd never had a chance to explain to her mother that the spider was really her, and now that it was turned off, she knew it for sure, that this thing that was left behind when her spider was off was somebody else entirely, that just like the dream self who hides inside your head when you're awake but can tell you a story in your sleep that you don't know the ending to, the spider was her real self, her first self, Nada, and if they took it from her, they would be taking her, killing her, leaving a stranger in charge of her body, but there was no way for her to explain that, no combination of words that she could assemble in her mouth to say all that now, no way for her to be understood, and so she opened her eyes and followed the tendons in his neck up to the doctor's ear and she opened her mouth like she might whisper something to him.

Kevin Guilfoile and The Thousand links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry
video trailer for the book
excerpt from the book (at the New York Times)
excerpt from the book (at The Morning News) review
The Drowning Machine review
I'm Booking It review
Just the Bookstore review
Los Angeles Times review
Lost for Words review
MathFiction review
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel review
Musings of an All Purpose Monkey review
New York Times review (by Michiko Kakutani)
New York Times review (by Alex Berenson)
The Review Broads review
The Richmond Times-Dispatch review
Winnipeg Free Press review

The Big Thrill profile of the author
Chicago Reader interview with the author
The Cult interview with the author
Huffington Post interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Cast of Shadows
Printers Row profile of the author
Time Out Chicago profile of 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 comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
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

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