September 22, 2011
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
A widow writes the introduction to her husband's long out-of-print novel, and through her Savage vividly explores the truth of memory.
The New York Review of Books wrote of the novel:
"Sam Savage's exhilarating, often lilting use of language and his faultless characterization of the eccentric, unraveling of his main character, Edna, is evocative, poetic, and compelling."
I don't generally listen to songs, except for the jazz songs I sometimes hear on the car radio, and never have music on while I write, even as background. My novels are monologues. A character speaks, and the voice of the character, the character of the character as revealed through that voice, rather than action or plot, sustains the novel. To write, I have to be able to hear the voice, to ventriloquize it in a sense, and that would be harder with another voice carrying on at the same time, even a singing voice.
Edna, the narrator in Glass, sits at a typewriter. She works on a memoir of her dead husband, a memoir that against her will morphs into a fragmented, stream-of-consciousness account of her own life past and present. She types her thoughts, her recollections; she meticulously describes the minute events of her uneventful daily life; she reflects on the whims and vagaries of memory and language. She despairs of words, of their ability to seize the world, tell the truth, redeem the past, or rescue her from solitude. Her voice, with its penchant for endless qualification and revision, is quietly relentless in its looping recursiveness. If Glass were music, I think it would sound like Philip Glass (no pun intended).
I have published three novels and have just completed a fourth. Aside from a mention of Billie Holiday's "Am I Blue" in The Cry of the Sloth and passing references to Coltrane's "Lush Life" and Saint-Saëns' Carnival of Animals in Glass, I have talked about only two pieces of music. Edna at one point recalls a time in her youth when she practiced a form of automatic writing, attempting to enter so entirely into a piece of music that she could without conscious deliberation, just by listening and typing, transpose it into words on paper. The music was Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra. This is an assertively triumphant and tragic work. It is hard to imagine a piece of music standing in greater contrast to the even, muted tones of Edna's own voice. And even as she exclaims, "Look, it's Bartok, it's all Bartok," she knows that to others it is just "a dozen pages of gibberish."
The second musical piece talked about in Glass is also the only one mentioned in my first novel Firmin: No Sun in Venice, the 1957 album by The Modern Jazz Quartet. This album — with its baroque counterpoint, John Lewis's spare, understated piano, and Milt Jackson's swinging vibes — struck people at the time as the height of cool. There is a deep personal reason that it appears twice in my novels. In 1957, I was seventeen years old, I was in a city (Boston) for the first time in my life. It was the first time I had left my small town in South Carolina. It was the year in which I set foot in a bookstore for the first time, saw a movie in a foreign language (The Seventh Seal) for the first time, conversed with a black person who was not a servant, heard a foreign language spoken in the street, and listened to jazz for the first time. No other music has a similar mnemonic, madeleine-like effect on me. I have only to hear the first notes of any one of the cuts on that album and the past rushes in. Wanting to evoke that epoch, in Firmin and Glass, I naturally reached for it.
Sam Savage and Glass 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