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October 6, 2011

Book Notes - Kirsten Kaschock ("Sleight")

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

Kirsten Kaschock's debut novel Sleight features startlingly innovative storytelling, and is as fascinating as it is disturbing.

Library Journal wrote of the book:

'Kaschock's work stands out for the originality of its concepts, narrative structure, and, particularly, language, as the author redefines words in relation to her art and boldly breaks from traditional grammatical constructions. Kaschock's intimate knowledge of dance is an asset, helping her bring the sleight performers vividly to life. . . . Sleight is to the traditional fiction narrative what alternative music is to mainstream pop. Readers who enjoy the challenge of an innovative, unconventional style will take pleasure in this selection"

Stream a Spotify playlist of these tunes. If you don't have Spotify yet, sign up for the free service.

In her own words, here is Kirsten Kaschock's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel, Sleight:

1. "The Pan Piper," by Miles Davis from Sketches of Spain

There is a Pied Piper character in Sleight: West. This is probably his theme song. Horns can be dark, even when they soar—the Vogelsongs, a serial killing couple in the novel, are in touch with this sentiment. I love how the song moves from prologue to momentum, its walking rhythm entering around halfway through. And then the relentlessness of it.

2. "Here I Dreamt I Was An Architect," by The Decemberists from Castaways And Cutouts

Before novels are even released, reviews get written about them. An anonymous critic in Publishers Weekly has called mine "strenuously pretentious." It was lovingly pointed out to me that the work of The Decemberists might also claim this amazing term. I put it on a t-shirt. This album was playing often as I wrote the first draft of Sleight. In the novel, architectures are movable frameworks (nearly impossible structures) that sleightists wield as they alter the nature of reality—slipping in and out of existence during performances.

3. "Still with Me," by Balanescu Quartet from Bălănescu: Luminitza

I've danced my whole life, and Sleight (and this playlist) reflect that. I once choreographed to this piece of music. It haunts and pushes. It works its magics by collage, by obscuring and looping barely-heard language, by layering, and then by removal: it is also undeniably emotional. Wearing its craft on its sleeve, it still manages to move the listener—this one, literally. I borrowed heavily from strategies of composition I learned in dance to create my sleightworld. Things so obviously constructed are not without their own urgency. Parse that.

4. "Swan Swan H," by R.E.M. from Life's Rich Pageant

Quite possibly my favorite REM song. I wrote most of the novel while in school in Athens, Georgia, and these lyrics are actually referenced in a "precursor" written by one of the characters. Precursors are evocative word lists that have no discernible narrative yet somehow set the stage for the sublime. I like the juxtaposition of nonsensical remnants of the civil war and the poverty of reconstruction alongside the phrase "we're all free now." Is this a freedom from meaning maybe, from history? This song is muddled with scraps of "a long, low time ago"—impossible to interpret but also impossibly heavy. Toothpicks: relics of the cross. Okay, it is my favorite.

5. "Heart of Art," by Hope For Agolden Summer from I bought a heart made of art in the deep, deep South

In contrast with the vanishing act sleightists do on stage, in Sleight certain abstract words are given concrete forms—Needs and Souls. This song plays a similar game. God is big here, wrestling with the singer "along North Georgia streams." This band was playing locally when I was writing the book and their album is southern gothic in a way I never fully appreciated until I lived there. How Faulkner is funny.

6. "My Wild Love," by The Doors from Waiting For The Sun

West, the Diaghelev-like director of one of the sleight troupes, has a warped relationship to Native American culture. So does this song. The Devil is big here, and aimless travel: West would approve of both. "My wild love is crazy/she screams like a bird," also invokes the name of a character in the novel: Lark Scrye. Spoken aloud, her name is birdscream.

7. "This Devil's Workday," by Modest Mouse from Good News For People Who Love Bad News

In Sleight, there is a ubiquitous billboard that reads "You Are Living On The Site Of An Atrocity." Contact me if you want the t-shirt. So this is my atrocity song, and the dark horns are here too.

8. "Sea Lion," by Sage Francis from A Healthy Distrust

When I went into labor with my third child, I was still drafting the novel. I brought to the hospital a CD compilation that began with this song. The driving music brought nurses into my room to hang during that long day, and I continued listening to it the whole summer afterwards, finishing my first draft slung with child, breastfeeding in the midst of the love and fury that accompanied each of my children's appearance in my life. My infants exasperated me—the way they violently escaped my body yet still held me by the tether of absolute dependence. The combo of anger, pain, love, and defiance that Sage Francis manages through words and their delivery—it helped me push out a child and a novel nearly simultaneously.

9. "Après Moi," by Regina Spektor from Begin to Hope

This is pure I-am-the-center-of-the-universe melodrama. There's a bit of this in all my work: the poetry, the fiction, the dance. Maybe I deserve credit for being aware of it? We should all be laughing at ourselves more of the time. And at Faulkner.

10. "Hoy, Nazan," by Kim Kashkashian, Robyn Schulkowsky & Tigran Mansurian from Music of Komitas

This is actual art that came out of actual atrocity, specifically the Armenian genocide. I have to believe that such transformation is possible—I also wonder at all that artists do to manufacture this kind of intensity when it is not obviously present in their lives. The way the voice falters and struggles to match the waterfalling piano and brighter, repetitive viola recalls to me a ritualized reaching for God or—alternately—a straining denial of God's abandonment in the face of human-made horror.

11. "From the Mouth of Gabriel," by Sufjan Stevens from All Delighted People

God has a shadow presence in Sleight—and sleightists can be avatars of (and sacrificial lambs to) that shadow. I love the plaintiveness of this, and the weird sci-fi vibe that comes in with the synthesizer. Of course those who see the world through angels' mouths would welcome electronica in their folk music. And of course they would read Borges.

12. " Transparent Lover," by Robyn Hitchcock from Eye

Sleightists "wick"—they disappear at the apex of their performances. The ultimate experience of sleight is the witnessing of absence. Hitchcock reminded me that, wherever it is found and whatever we choose to call it, the invisible has a hold on us.

13. "To Let Myself Go," by Ane Brun from A Temporary Dive

The ending credits of the movie. I am not the screenwriter: I am the key grip.

Kirsten Kaschock and Sleight links:

the author's blog
video trailer for the book

Kirkus Reviews review
Library Journal review

Iowa City Press-Citizen profile of the author
The Rumpus interview with 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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