September 21, 2011
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
John Dalton's novel The Inverted Forest is smart, suspenseful, and lyrically written.
Booklist wrote of the book:
"This is, as Dalton's title indicates, summer camp turned on its head. Working with a group of misfits, Dalton suggests a quieter, less comic John Irving. He extends compassion to both campers and staff, including kind-hearted nurse Harriet Foster. It’s Harriet’s pivotal decision to send Wyatt to prevent an assault on a camper that leads to a shocking act with tragic consequences. Throughout, Dalton plays with his theme of inversion—the ugliness that hides behind a handsome face, wrongs done in the name of right—and challenges readers to determine which way is up. The attendant quandaries linger long after the last page is turned."
Allow me to state the obvious: writing a novel is outrageously hard work. It requires a single-minded daily effort that goes on for years. When you finish a chapter, you're dizzy and drained. When you finish a book, it's as if you've been set free from a dark cave so that you can stumble shaken and pale out into the bright glare of the real world. It's a strange and exhausting and probably unnatural way to go about living one's life.
Yet I can't help but feel that it's bad form to complain too much about the hardships of writing. Everyone—or at least all the real adults in the world—have to work similarly hard at something—law contracts, kindergarten teaching, ditch digging. At least fiction writers have the great privilege of choosing their projects and working hard on something they find fascinating.
So let me instead talk about a very happy byproduct of writing fiction.
When things are going well with the writing, there's a change in one's mood—a buoyancy, a lift. Let's call it a heightened artistic perceptiveness and sense of well-being. (It's tempting to call it a high, but that would be somewhat misleading) This good feeling follows me from my writing table out into the rest of my life. All the regular sensual pleasures are enhanced. Good food tastes better. Sunlight through the trees is a richer, dreamier experience. Music—always a reliable and sustaining pleasure—is several degrees more vibrant, more transporting. It's not just that the music sounds better (though it does), it's that I can hear deeper into the many rooms and passageways that a good song contains. The lyrics reveal new truths. I recognize correlations between a song's emotional current and its careful arrangement.
Here are six extraordinary songs that blossomed for me while I wrote The Inverted Forest.
"Red Desert" – Pernice Brothers
This is a chiming and haunting indie pop song. It's a lovely piece of work, but it also has rich, mysterious and downright ominous undertones. "Red Desert" strikes me as nostalgic in the same charged and dangerous way that a David Lynch film is nostalgic.
"The Man That I Keep Hid" – Joe Henry
An altogether brilliant song –one of a dozen brilliant songs that Joe Henry has blessed us with over the course of his extraordinary career. "The Man That I Keep Hid" feels like it has made its way to us from the backroom of a 1920's speakeasy. Either that or it's part of a ruthlessly smart depression-era musical. Joe Henry is such a sly and astute lyricist. And his knack for arrangement is just about perfect. Notice how the squawky horns capture the bravado and dismay of a man confessing (and concealing) his secret self. All the large and small musical flourishes in this song feel necessary and exactly right.
"Polish Girls" – Califone
The band Califone sounds as if they dwell in a vast Salvation Army depot and make their songs by banging away on donated wreckage and ruined musical instruments. In theory that sounds appalling. And yet Califone's songs are sweeping and intimate and creaky-beautiful. "Polish Girls" starts out muted and low. Tim Rutili's gruff voice (lovely and old-fashioned) carries us along. At the 52 second mark the song shakes off its wooly coat and starts to rock. The more you listen the more rousing it becomes.
"Dry Grass & Shadows" – Alela Diane
This song (and much of the album it comes from) is a clever summoning of a sound we might call Appalachian. Some recording artists (Alela Diane, Gillian Welch) adopt the sound and stylistic sensibility of the poor and hard-pressed people of rural Appalachia. When the songs are this good and tonally rich, it's entirely persuasive.
"Better Times" – Beach House
The best songs, of course, reveal themselves over many listens. In my first encounter with Beach House's Teen Dream, I judged the songs blurry and limited. The synthesizers sounded a little cheap. When I came back to Teen Dream a few months later, I underwent a radical conversion. The instruments may, on first listen, seem simple and droning, but the songs are sweeping and magnificent. And Teen Dream is loaded with great songs. I've chosen "Better Times" as a starting point, but there are at least six other gorgeous pop songs that have become loyal companions.
"Addle Brains" – Augie March
Augie March is a recently defunct pop band from Australia that should have found an enthusiastic audience in America. (They didn't; they were a much better band than we deserved.) Still, against the odds, they wrote and played exquisite songs. I still have no real notion of what "Addle Brains" is about. Even so the song's galloping rhythm and gorgeous piano rifts lift me time and again to a state of the sublime. I adore every second of "Addle Brains". It's a masterful song and a real work of Classical-Pop genius. I'm entirely right in my opinion. "Addle Brains" is a great song. No one can convince me otherwise.
John Dalton and The Inverted Forest links:
Chalk the Sun review
Charlotte's Web of Books review
Curled Up with a Good Book review
Entertainment Weekly review
Kirkus Reviews review
St. Louis Post-Dispatch review
Three Guys One Book review
West End Word review
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