March 15, 2012
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Miles Klee's debut novel Ivyland is a dark, smart, and devastatingly funny postmodern dystopian tale, one that surprises with every page.
Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:
"Delightfully manic and sharply intelligent... Klee is undoubtedly a formidable talent in the making—he can make sentences crackle with an intensity and humor not seen since David Foster Wallace."
Out of tradition—or perhaps laziness—Ivyland is a novel set in my native New Jersey. And while I completely demolished geographic reality in the process, stitching places together as I saw fit, the result is still recognizably a book about where I grew up. But who cares? If you can't convey a commonality of experience that disregards state borders, you have no business on the fiction shelf. In an effort to weed out those broader attempts at empathy, I give you this mix: 'New Jersey Is The Whole World.'
"Monkey" — Low
While it can be read as a song about addiction or the gathered weight of past events, Low capture a certain appropriate mood most of all: there's this rumbling menace, an airy chill I want to impart to a reader. Literature is animated by specific voices, and ideally the chorus of them in Ivyland strikes just the right dark dissonance.
"She Speeds" — Straitjacket Fits
Hecuba, a character quite dear to my heart, is bus driver and reckless speed demon. It is not enough, I find, to merely drive; automotive escapism comes from a sense of daring, of total Cronenbergian mind-meld with the projectile missile you're piloting. There's a sweet fatalistic thrill to riding shotgun with someone who may well kill you both.
"Today Is Not The Day" — Curve
I don't necessarily think of Ivyland as 'apocalyptic.' The world doesn't end, it just degrades. As far the planet exploding versus waking up to more 2012—well, the latter is a lot scarier as far as I'm concerned. For millennia we've been wondering when civilization will actually, finally snuff it, but I often remind myself: today is not the day.
"My Own Face Inside The Trees" — The Clientele
The mystery of choice, the patterns it makes, the architectures we impose on invisible, entropic elements of life. The faithful see miracles where skeptics see none; an astronomer sees constellations where the novice sees a chaos of light. Humans are doomed to categorize their surroundings, to struggle for order—at any expense.
"Knife" — Skywave
Lev and DH have a black-market cosmetic surgery business, one that disfigures at least as many as it enhances. Which speaks to the double natures of violence and medicine: bones are deliberately broken to be reshaped, while prescription drugs are adapted to nefarious ends. The tools of change can be neither inherently good nor evil.
"Don't Have To Be So Sad" — Yo La Tengo
I aspire to crossbreed the tragic and comic, to laugh about the unthinkable. But my family insists the book is, on the whole, quite sad, and I suppose I can't disagree. Friends, too, I think, are sometimes surprised by how bleak I can get on the page, since I'm a goofier pessimist in person. Does a different side of me do the writing? Not exactly.
"One Of Us" — Wire
Co-dependence is in Ivyland's bloodstream. Faced with infinite ways to pair off, people seem to value mutual attraction over compatibility. We all know a couple that "loves to fight," a team whose discord is their stability, the static of conflict a subliminal anchor. When these partnerships dissolve, their volatility spirals out in surprising ways.
"Sanddollars" — Why?
There's a density of thought here to which good fiction aspires. Plus a lot of the book takes place on beaches, or somehow involves sea creatures. I don't believe it was entirely on purpose, but it may have something to do with Americans looking worriedly across the Atlantic to Europe's ruins.
"Love In A Car" — The House Of Love
Come to think of it, there's a lot of driving, a lot of transportation in the book. Things happen en route to other things. We tend to address cars and trains as interstitial inconveniences, blank time to be filled with music and conversation and reading, as if traveling comprised the cracks in modern existence and not, in fact, its glue.
"A Clearing" — Brian Eno
Boom towns, upon crumbling, give way to nature. What's staggering is how quickly and effectively the grass and animals surge back into dominance. There's a scene in the quiet of New Jersey's pine barrens—but it's not a true quiet, of course. It's the sound of humanity's eventual absence, an ecosystem at equilibrium. Nobody does that like Eno.
"Run Me Out" — Zola Jesus
Cal, an astronaut waiting to die in lunar orbit, represents the most dire ideas in Ivyland, the most alienated mind. And yet he is just one of many who seek a form of exile, complete passivity, escape from a hierarchy of being shattered upon its very conception. The stunted people I write about can't bear to be spectators, let alone pieces in play.
"Strawberry Hill" — Red House Painters
Without spoiling the ending, I'll say that the dazzled unreality of this song is what I went for: secrets spilled, a consuming haze, the triumph of melody over an otherwise broken setting, terrible destinies. If New Jersey has any beauty within its borders, it is poignant or cerebral, the poeticism of empty parking lots. In fact, I wonder if that's the only kind.
Miles Klee and Ivyland links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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