Largehearted Boy: Book Notes - Michael Kimball ("Us")

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July 1, 2011

Book Notes - Michael Kimball ("Us")

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

Michael Kimball's Us is an emotionally powerful a novel about illness, grief and love. This story of an older man whose dying is brilliantly written and heartbreaking in all the best ways.

Time Out Chicago wrote of the book:

"The sentences and even paragraphs simulate the stunned but dutiful response to the suffering of a loved one: short, raw and somewhat elliptical, wrapping themselves around the small tasks at hand and the larger questions constantly raised. ... Kimball’s short chapters cast such a hypnotic spell, the reader is able to plug directly into the character's grief. It’s a simply gorgeous and astonishing book, the kind that makes the outside world disappear once you open its pages."

In his own words, here is Michael Kimball's Book Notes music playlist for his novel, Us:

1. Wilderness, "Emergency"

The novel begins with an emergency, though a different one than referenced in the song. Still, it sets a haunting tone. Also, I saw the last show that this band ever played, which was amazing. They went from song to song with no breaks and then it was over forever.

2. Ingrid Michaelson, "Keep Breathing"

I'm told this song is a little Gray's Anatomy, but I'm not going to look to see if the TV show actually has used it for its soundtrack because, if they have, then I won't put it on this playlist. This song takes me down every time I hear it

3. Explosions in the Sky, "First Breath After Coma"

I almost didn't include this song because the title is a little too on the nose, but the music is a beautiful fit, the way it accumulates and swells. That's what I tried to do with the arc of Us.

4. Gus, (Don't Fear ) "The Reaper"

This is a slowed down, stripped down version of the Blue Oyster Cult song that I grew up on. In retrospect, the song may have been somewhat formative for me or that's just a little joke. Regardless, what Gus does to the original song is something I tried to do with the voice in Us – strip it down, make it bare, raw, felt.

5. Bon Iver, "Lump Sum"

I have been obsessed with Bon Iver's For Emma, Forever Ago ever since I first heard it. I recently became further obsessed when I learned that Justin Vernon gets the music first, then gets down sounds for the music, then finds words for the sounds. The feeling that that creates, that was the single thread that I tried to pull all the way through the novel.

6. Beck, "Sunday Sun"

There's a scene in Us where the older couple follows the sun around their house, room to room, trying to slow down and lengthen their last days together. Also, this is my favorite Beck, the Sea Change Beck.

7. Sufjan Stevens, "For the Widows in Paradise, For the Fatherless in Ypsilanti"

This song moves from the lines “I'd do anything for you” to “I'll do anything for you” to “I did everything for you.” This might be a summary of the husband's story – the anything and the everything that he does for his wife.

8. Neutral Milk Hotel, "Naomi"

I used this song on the Book Notes playlist for Dear Everybody, but I have to use it again. These are the first three lines of the song:

Your prettiness is seeping through
Out from the dress I took from you, so pretty
My emptiness is swollen shut

And there is a scene late in the novel where the narrator dresses up a coat rack with one of his wife's dresses and dances around the living room with it.

9. Mazzy Star, "Fade into You"

The first line in this song is this: “I want to hold the hand inside you.” I would have stolen that line for Us if I would have thought of it.

10. Lackthereof, "The Columbia"

I can't remember where I first heard about Danny Seim's solo project, Lackthereof. I may have been googling “guys who make things in their basement” or something like that, but this song might feel like something almost indescribable or maybe that's what togetherness is or coupleness or some kind of long desire.

11. The Cure, "Love Song"

This one's pretty obvious, so I'm not going to say anything about it except that I needed a transition song between "The Columbia" and "Our Hearts Don't Change."

12. Celebration, "Our Hearts Don't Change"

This could be a kind of anthem for the novel. I don't know how to describe it. I just listen to it and let it get inside me.

Michael Kimball and Us links:

the author's website
the author's blog
the author's Wikipedia entry
excerpt from the book
video trailer for the book

Barn Owl Review review
Big Other review (by Amber Sparks)
Big Other review (by John Poch)
BookedinChico review
Chamber Four review
The Faster Times review
The Laughing Yeti review
Observer review
The Outlet review
Outsiders Writers Collective review
Time Out Chicago review
Time Out New York review

The Best Damn Creative Writing Blog interview with the author
Creative Loafing Atlanta interview with the author
The Faster Times interviews by the author
HTMLGIANT interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Dear Everybody
The Nervous Breakdown interview with the author
NOLA Book and Literary News interview with the author
One True Thing interview with the author
Urbanite Baltimore Magazine 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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