July 12, 2011
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Dawn Tripp's third novel Game of Secrets is a literary thriller that pulls you into its beautifully written world with its clever premise and vividly imagined characters.
Caroline Leavitt wrote of the book:
"Intricately structured and exquisitely written, it pulls you in like an undertow and it truly is startlingly original."
Game of Secrets is the story of two families bound together by a small town-murder. It's a literary thriller, played out through a Scrabble game. When Jane Weld was 11 years old, her father disappeared. Three years later, his skull rolled out of a gravel pit, a bullet hole in the temple. The rumor was he was killed by the husband of his mistress, Ada Varick. Fast forward fifty years and Jane's willful daughter Marne has struck up an unexpected romance with Ada's youngest son, Ray. As their love affair intensifies, Jane and Ada come together for a casual game of Scrabble which soon transforms into a cat-and-mouse game of words long left unspoken, and dark secrets left untold.
I made a soundtrack for Game of Secrets as I was writing it. Twenty-two songs. But the nine below are the ones I listened to over and over again. There were the songs that broke my heart for four years as I was writing this story.
1. "Thunder Road" by Bruce Springsteen
More than any other, Springsteen was the artist that inspired Game. And more than any other song, it was Thunder Road. Game of Secrets opens with stories of boys racing cars fast down small-town roads, and the devastating consequence of that. A central character, Ada's middle son, Huck, sixty now—still wears “that dazed sort of juvenile swagger, like he just stepped out of a Springsteen song run amok.” Marne, Jane's daughter, can't stand Huck, whose brutal past and views stand for things that are easy to dislike or disdain. But before I knew details of the kind of man Huck would grow up to be, I knew him only as a 14 year old boy driving fast down an unfinished highway in a borrowed car, heat in hands on the wheel, thinking about a girl. As that boy, Huck is like fire underground. He was one of the early fragments I started with that I couldn't stop thinking about—that came out of nowhere and drove the rest of the story. To me, Huck is "Thunder Road." And throughout Game of Secrets, even when you begin to learn things about him you wish you didn't know, you can't quite outrun that raw and simple desire he felt once, not just for that girl, but for the freedom of a dream she stood for.
2. "Leaving New York" by R.E.M.
I love this song for a thousand reasons: the forever, the never, the shadow of necklace across your thigh. I love R.E.M all-over. Always have. In Game, this song speaks most to Jane—and the curious nameless changeless aspect of her, that Huck falls in love with, that Ada is drawn to, and that Marne struggles to come to understand. As a grown daughter, Jane is still searching for clues to her father's death in the slight blonde pieces of Scrabble tile, knowing that Ada, the woman sitting opposite the table from her, is the woman he once loved was and, more than likely, the irresistibly beautiful reason he was killed. Memory fuses and shatters like glass, mercurial future, forget the past, but you, it's what I feel. The thematic question at the center of this novel is how well can we ever really know another person? There are moments when it seems like Jane disassociates from her everyday world. Marne remarks on this—that elsewhere her mother gets off to. Yet there are other moments when Jane's perception of reality—life and intimacy and time—approaches a deeper, more existential vision of what truth is. More than any other character, Jane is capable of great feeling. She feels what lies on the other side of what we see. And she understands that our lives are not as easily wrapped up as we imagine them to be, and sometimes what we feel can be more essential to who we are than what think we ‘know.'
3. "American Pie" by Don McLean
American Pie is Marne's favorite song. The love-affair between Marne and Ray turns the decades-old feud between their two families on its ear, and it overturns Marne as well. There is a scene mid-way through the novel when Marne tries to explain her theory about McLean's masterpiece to Ray: “You know what it is that makes this song, that makes it endless and inescapable. It isn't just lyrical genius. It's all the vague little utterances McLean cut in between the words—all his little glitches and stammerings, his little growls, the awws and the ohhs, and the ands and the buts and the ‘Well I, Man I, So come on now—“ And when Ray gives her a skeptical look, a smile like there's some joke going on just off to the side of her, she insists, knowing she sounds like a lunatic to be making a case for something so apparently irrelevant and small. “Missy Pie,” she contends, “would have been a totally different piece if McLean had tidied it up. Epic still, for sure, you can't beat that story, but squeaky clean and neat and dull. Not the kind of wild catechism you hope to impale yourself on—“ As it turns out, what Marne loves about American Pie turns out to be exactly what she can't handle in her own life. She likes things in their places, she likes her lines drawn. And when things start to spiral outside their neat edges, when she starts to realize that the past is never dead, and loose-ends are what we live on, her theory on the flawed beauty of Missy Pie veers a little too close to home.
4. "The Blowers Daughter" by Damien Rice
I saw the film Closer when I first started having bits and pieces of Game tumbling through my head. And though I have a scathing crush on Natalie Portman, it was this song by Damien Rice, the lyrics, the music, the piercing incomplete desire that underpins it all, that would snap me awake at night for months after. It was, more than anything, the lyrics I can't take my eyes off of you, not just those eight words, but the extended ache of Rice's voice. I could not shake that out of me. I wrote the early draft of a scene in Game to The Blowers Daughter. A scene of a man staring at a woman across a moving street while the rest of the world falls away. He stares at her and does not stop. Nothing is spoken, and everything is changed. That look—something so simple, unnoticed by anyone else shapes the intimacy between them and impacts all that follows. Late in the game, Jane remarks to Ada how she wanted to tell her daughter Marne that love is only this: A tiny nothing, a slip of the tongue, a glance. A world can be built on a glance.
5. "Deer in Headlights" by Carlin Tripp
My stepson is a singer-songwriter. I remember the first time he showed up at my house and played this song, a year before it was recorded. It was winter, and I was stuck—a knot toward the end of the story I couldn't undo, some little place I couldn't see into. The first night he played "Deer in Headlights," the music itself seemed lit, and I felt something give inside me—it's not just the lyrics, but the music that undoes me every time I hear it still. At a kitchen table all alone/building castles with your soul/and I will come there, for you, wherever you are going, she said. Time comes slightly unhinged in that line. “For you” is broken out, removed. A brief beat of silence before, and another beat after. That silence says something to me. Silence can do that: a pause in a moment, a story, a song—and we can feel the pull of all that is unspoken moving under the words. A few days later, the song still running through my head, I wrote that scene toward the end of the story, the one I had been working toward, where a man shows up on a woman's doorstep. She hears the knock on the door and opens it to find the free and thoughtless beauty of him standing on the porch:
"So you want to come on with me then?" he said.
"With me." He said it just like that, and that was all, like she would know just what he meant, his voice with that dark way in it she loved. And she did know. And she went.
6. "Secret World" by Peter Gabriel
From the first line on, a sense of place drives this gem of a song--about two lovers down by the railway siding/ in our secret world we were colliding/all the places we were hiding love/ What was it we were thinking of? When I hear this song, it's like a veil in the air is rent, and I am at the edge of that place Gabriel describes which is, by turns, sunsheltered, underwater, unaware, a house of make-believe, of disrepair. The movement in this song is not linear, but fractured--it describes the strange and drifting intimacy between two people--a world not entirely of this world, but with details, so sensual and evocative, they define every twist and turn of the song. I work to create a strong sense of place in my stories. The characters in Game are driven and defined by the place they are from—the working, fishing, farming, tough, fierce, hardscrabble, salt marsh rank stoic, stone-walled New Englandy beauty of the place—swathes of open fields still left, roads paved over old deer trails, the double-forked branch of the river, sea running into the land. “It's a particular point of earth” Marne says. “You come home and the light here is like nowhere else.”
7. "Slave to Love" by Bryan Ferry
I have loved this song since my early twenties, which means I listened to on cassette when Walkmans were in. I'd listen to it, rewind, listen again, and once, when I took the tape out to flip it to the other side, the cassette thread caught on the spool and kinked and I had to buy another, which I did because I couldn't live without Roxy Music back then. To me, there has always been an odd echo between "Slave to Love" and Springsteen—which might sound blasphemous to Bruce fans but it's something to do with the you're running with me/don't touch the ground/we're the restless hearted/not the chained and bound. And it also has something to do with the lyric but unhewn quality of Ferry's voice. I would follow that voice anywhere. Toward the end of Slave to Love, there is a turn—a kind of awakening to a line crossed over: we're too young to reason/too grown up to dream. Throughout the course of Game, Huck is walking that line. He has seen so much, too much, for one so young, but the violence of what he has lived turns out to be nothing against the moment in the story when his heart goes to paper because he sees the girl he would bend the four corners of the earth for and her beautiful face looking into a future not meant for him. Ever. I played Slave to Love to write that moment, when his dream of her—the sun-shivered- road-of-forever she was to him—was lost.
8. "'52 Vincent Black Lightning" by Richard Thompson
I learned about this bluegrass ballad inadvertently. I am a motorcycle freak, so I looked it up, fell in love listening to it, memorized the lyrics, sang it under my breath when I ran with the dog on the beach in winter. "'52 Vincent Black Lightning" tells of a thief who fell in love with a red-haired girl named Molly; he meets her at the corner, gets her up behind him on that '52 Vincent and they ride. As I was building Game of Secrets, I often felt there should be more motorcycle in it. The sensibility of the novel smacks of it, but the bike is a minor player in the story. Ray has a motorcycle, a '69 Triumph Bonneville he bought in pieces, kept the pieces in milk crates in his garage until he'd collected them all, then he built the bike back. Once on a date with Ray, Marne is scrambling for something to say, and remarks: “I want a ride on that Bonnie Bike of yours.” He looks back at her squarely: “I want to see you naked.” That trade gets played out later, with fall-off-the-cliff consequences. Three quarters of the way through Game, when Marne has managed to upset almost every applecart, she is with her father, Carl, down in the garden, and he is humming that motorcycle bluegrass song, that free and happy song that has a sad end. And the end of the song is sad—the thief is shot robbing a bank, Red Molly is called down to his dying bedside, and he tells her there's nothing in this world/beats a '52 Vincent and a red-headed girl. As chrome-swathed angels swoop down, he slips her keys, then he gave her one last kiss and died/and he gave her his Vincent to ride. It's a quirky, almost redemptive, heartbreak of a song, where the soul of a lightning '52 beats out all the rest.
9. "Atlantic City" by Bruce Springsteen
"Atlantic City" is a song that begins with endings—violence, an execution, trouble busting in—and in the midst of that, a young couple's flight. It has a different sort of fire than other Springsteen songs I love: violent and bleak, but the refrain it keeps returning to has a certain glimmer of possibility, of understated faith: Well everything dies, baby, that's a fact/But maybe everything that dies someday comes back. These two lines are at the heart of the Scrabble game that Jane and Ada play. As they lay down their tiles, they play out the stories that have bound their two families together—stories that have been told, and the other darker secrets—tragic, wild, and unlikely—that have remained untold. The present is marked by the past. Or as Marne puts it early on in her blunt, looking-straight-down-the-barrel-way: The dead are in their precincts. Sure. That doesn't mean they don't have their fingerprints all over the lives of the living. But "Atlantic City" defies that kind of easy fatalistic cynicism. In the course of Game, Marne collides head-on with those elements of her past she has fought to escape, but in the end, she comes to own that same past—not cozying up to it necessarily, but owning it. And in one deft turn, what has come before melds seamlessly into what will be.
Dawn Tripp and Game of Secrets 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