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October 14, 2011

Book Notes - Lawrence Douglas ("The Vices")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book. Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, David Peace, Myla Goldberg, and many others.

Lawrence Douglas's The Vices is as elegantly crafted a novel as I have read all year. Filled with quirky yet believable characters, this is a literary mystery that skillfully explores themes of identity.

Mystery Scene wrote of the book:

"While there are mysteries galore in The Vices, it’s actually a literary novel. Or a philosophy treatise. Or an abnormal psychology monograph. Or... Oh, what difference does it make? Oliver and his family and friends are so outrageously entertaining in their neurotic complexities that you’ll find yourself enjoying every perverse one of them, whatever they do or to whom they do it."

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

In his own words, here is Lawrence Douglas's Book Notes music playlist for his novel, The Vices:

"These Days," Nico and the Velvet Underground

I wrote The Vices while living in Berlin. Every morning I'd take my laptop to Café Leonhardt on Stuttgarter Platz, where I'd down Milchkaffee and write until mid-afternoon. The manager of Leonhardt was a Scotsman who often played old Velvet Underground LPs on a wobbly turntable. His favorite song was "These Days," written by Jackson Browne when he was only—incredibly—sixteen, and covered by Nico and the Velvet Underground. I came to love the song and Nico's haunting voice and her flat Teutonic articulation of the lyrics. Maybe because I knew about her own tragic end, killed while riding a bike after finally kicking her heroin habit, I came to think of the song as an anthem of sorts for the novel, both a tonic and a stimulus for the imagination.

Beggars Banquet, The Rolling Stones

Let it Bleed and Exile on Main Street are my personal favorites, but it is the Stones' seventh album that plays an important early role in The Vices. Shortly after meeting Oliver Vice, the talented and doomed Wittgenstein scholar whose story the novel tells, the unnamed narrator receives a formal invitation to a party to be held at Vice's loft in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Rolling Stones' Beggars Banquet. At this party, the narrator learns that Vice once played ping-pong with Keith Richards. He also meets Sophia Baum, Vice's love interest, who spontaneously plants a kiss on the narrator's lips. Although he doesn't know it at the time, the narrator will never be the same. The Beggars Banquet party marks his initiation into the Oliverian universe. Of his seduction.

"Love Will Tear Us Apart," Joy Division

Oliver Vice longs to partake in the humdrum of domesticity, but sabotages, with stubborn regularity, all his relationships. In a larger sense, Ian Curtis's song about his own failing marriage stands for the contradictory nature of all romantic ties that gestate and fail in the novel. Perhaps it's no coincidence that a poster of the single hangs in Oliver's spacious loft.

"Panic," The Smiths; "Boys Don't Cry," The Cure; "Temptation," New Order

I list these songs together because they spell something of the musical ambience of the novel, the background music that travels through the characters' ears as the novel's actions unfold in the early 1990s. I myself was never a committed fan of British post-punk, but it's hard for me to imagine Oliver and his circle listening to anything else.

"Brilliant Disguise," Bruce Springsteen

The Vices is very much about the limits of our knowledge of self and other, about how our identity is forged in the crucible of half-lies, distorted memories, and bold duplicities. Springsteen's lovely ballad from 1987 captures something of the novel's spirit of dissembling and subterfuge.

"Falling in Love Again," Marlene Dietrich

Despite their strained relationship, Oliver remains deeply attached to his mother, Francizka Nagy. Born to a wealthy family and a model in her youth, Francizka reveals herself to be something of hopeless romantic and a pathological liar. Although Hungarian by birth and described by the narrator as looking like Greta Garbo, I always imagined Francizka as looking and sounding like Marlene Dietrich, which is perhaps why I have her listening to a CD of Dietrich's love songs when the narrator visits her New York apartment.

The Royal Scam, Steely Dan

In addition to more general matters of interpersonal treachery, The Vices involves a very particular form of fraud: the forging of works of art. This song, the title track from Steely Dan's fifth album, is one of the few songs I know about the world of the professional scammer. I often thought of it as I was writing the novel.

Lawrence Douglas and The Vices links:

the author's website

Boston Bibliophile review
Buffalo News review
Chalk the Sun review
Crowded on a Velvet Cushion review
ForeWord review
His Futile Preoccupations…. review
On the Seawall review
Publishers Weekly review
Tablet review

Amherst College interview with the author
Interview Magazine 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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