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July 7, 2011

Book Notes - Megan Abbott ("The End of Everything")

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

The End of Everything may be less noir and more literary psychological thriller than Megan Abbott's previous books, but is no less compelling.

Abbott captures her thirteen-year-old narrator's adolescence perfectly in this riveting coming of age mystery.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"Abbott (Bury Me Deep) expertly captures the nuances of lost innocence and childhood friendships, without ever losing an undercurrent of menace."

In her own words, here is Megan Abbott's Book Notes music playlist for her novel, The End of Everything:

My new book, The End of Everything, is set somewhere in the early1980s and it's the first time I've ever written about an era I lived through (after a fashion). As a result, listening to the music from the era while writing it proved was often tricky. For me, the 1980s is a period marked by hundreds of songs for which I have very specific, intractable personal associations ("Blister in the Sun," I'm talking to you.). And then there's the fact that lot of the music of the 80s is now a prisoner to kitsch and hard to rescue (thought Paul Thomas Anderson almost single-handedly does so with "Sister Christian" in Boogie Nights).

But, if I'm honest about it, the music I use while writing—or perhaps, more accurately, the music I associate with each book (in that, during the year or so I'm working on it, I keep returning to, while I'm actually writing or not)—has less to do with historical accuracy than with the mood, feel, atmosphere of the book. For Bury Me Deep, which is set in the early 1930s, I listened to a lot of Rudy Vallee, Helen Morgan, Fats Waller. But far more frequently I found myself turning to dark country music from the 1940s and early 50s, including the Hank Snow song that inspired the novel's title and Jeff Buckley's live cover of The Smiths' "I Know It's Over," which played in my head constantly during the last section of the book. They just suited the lonely, abandoned feeling of the book (for me).

Likewise, a lot of the music spinning in my head fell while writing The End of Everything fell in the fuzzy space between a kind of hangover of some choice 1970s rock (songs that still, to this day, can be heard in 7-11 parking lots throughout Michigan suburbs) and a handful of 1980s gems that speak to adolescent heart of the narrator, a 13-year-old girl, her body humming with yearning and confusion.

Someone once told me you should never include a song title in a book because you can't know what it will mean for the reader. I break this rule a bit in all my books, including in The End of Everything, where music plays a bigger part. Several scenes recall my own early adolescence of listening to record albums in someone's half-finished basement, stacking them high and listening to the songs echo through the place.

"You Don't Have to Say You Love Me" by Dusty Springfield and
"Some Girls" by the Rolling Stones

Both these songs appear in the book itself and, for me, seem to reflect the two poles of early female adolescence: on the one hand, all heady romanticism and on the other, the stomach-flipping menace of sex, which is both terrifying and thrilling.

"All the Young Dudes" by Mott the Hoople

This song also appears in the book, and it immediately calls to mind for me, as a little kid in the late 70s, how unbelievably cool and heroic teenagers seemed. That's not what the song's about, of course, but my memory of hearing it is deeply connected to sense memories of watching, from my elementary school yard, blue-jeaned packs of high schoolers walking slo-mo down Vernier Road.

"Cherry Bomb" by The Runaways

My best friend's older sister was a "bad girl," and a source of endless fascination to me when I was eight, nine. Whenever I hear this song, I think of her, smelling of cigarettes, hands shoved in the pockets of her tiny leather jacket.

"Nightswimming" by REM

This was my original title for The End of Everything and I forever associate the song forever with one of the characters, Mr. Verver, who plays keyboard and carries all the immaculate romanticism of the coolest suburban dads you ever knew.

"So. Central Rain (I'm Sorry)" by REM
"The Killing Moon" by Echo and the Bunnymen
"Head On" by Jesus and Mary Chain
The Replacements, "Skyway"
"Jane Says," by Jane's Addiction

These songs were more mood pieces as I wrote, many sending me back to the 1980s, but the thing they really have in common for me is there sense of the Bigness of Life. (Gosh, I forgot how epic "The Killing Moon" is!).

For my 13 year old narrator, for all 13 year olds (or at least the 13 year olds of my generation), life is big. A series of boring events—school, homework, chores—punctuated fairly regularly by sudden earth-shaking events— friendships torn asunder, rumors of sexual explorations, the secrets of adults revealed, the endless revelations about how wrong you have been about everyone you thought you knew. Everything matters to you. Everything can change in an instant, and the things you lose you fear you'll never get back. And you're right.

Megan Abbott and The End of Everything links:

the author's website
the author's blog
the author's Wikipedia entry

The American Culture review
BermudaOnion's weblog review
The Bookbag review
Bookgasm review
Chamber Four review
The Cold Spot review
Curiosity Builds review
The Drowning Machine review
Hooked Bookworm review
It's a Book Thing... review
Jenn's Bookshelves review
Kirkus Reviews review
Publishers Weekly review
The Review Broads review
Woody Haut's Blog review

All Things Girl interview with the author
Art & Literature interview with the author
Crimeculture interview with the author
Cultura Impopular interview with the author
Mulholland Books guest post by 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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