March 8, 2012
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Myfanwy Collins' debut novel Echolocation is a dark and moving tale of love and secrets. Filled with characters who resonate and always ring true, this book will haunt you long after the final page is turned.
Necessary Fiction wrote of the book:
"Collins makes beautiful art out of terrifying and grim realities. That she does this with so much obvious love for her characters is what makes Echolocation more of an elegy than an exposé. This is compassionate fiction, thankfully still clear-eyed and penetrating, but more than anything else, it is merciful."
Echolocation takes place in the north country of New York state. It is way upstate, on the northern fringe of the Adirondack Park. It is the place of my youth. It is where my heart lives. Up there, we grew up on 70s and 80s rock and hair metal. But we were also weaned on the country music we heard on the jukeboxes of the bars where our parents drank.
While Echolocation is about that place it is also plot driven, though my main concern has always been that the characters are believable and that I felt some type of affection for them. Even if they were not likable, I needed to find something to love about them. What a wonderful opportunity, then, to write about these characters in terms of the music that, in my mind, most epitomizes them. To me, music IS emotion. I used to not be able to listen to music with words when I'm writing because it took me too far away. Now I can't listen to any music at all as it puts me too much in another moment. I sometimes feel like music is another heart beating beside my own heart.
Here, then, are the characters that populate Echolocation and the music that, for me, defines them.
If I had to choose one song that epitomizes the emotional landscape of Echolocation it would be “For Today“ by Jessica Lea Mayfield. It's all about longing and pretending like you don't give a shit but you really do and just want someone to reach out to you. Scraping that the song even closer to the bone, I have to say that whenever I hear it, I think of Cheri. Cheri is the kind of woman who writes songs in her head and carries them with her as she mulls over who has last fucked her over, but she's also got a soft heart. She's hurting in the worst way and she desperately wants someone to love her, but also not to smother her. She is a mess of contrasts. In fact, Jessica Lea Mayfield is the type of woman I imagine Cheri to be--attractively offbeat, with her heart on her sleeve even though she thinks it's hidden. Cheri would listen to this song often and feel it deeply. She would keep it on repeat, as I do all my favorite songs.
Geneva is a beautifully flawed and complex woman. She's strong and a little bit scary but she's also hurting. People are drawn to her, at first for her beauty, and then for her strength. She does not so much listen to music as she embodies it. She is the type of person that men (and women) write songs about and she sort of knows that and sort of doesn't. Her song is "Bella Donna" by the Avett Brothers. I like the idea of both of them singing to her. I like the idea that they know that despite her tough exterior she is hurting inside and lonely and that they, those two beautiful brothers, want to fix it all for her. They want to give her the world and, frankly, I'm a little bit jealous of that because I want them to sing to me.
On the surface, there seems to be not much to Renee. She's an aging beauty, who probably shops in the Junior's department though she is pushing 40. She likes to be seen as sexy and fun. She works in a biker bar in Florida and lives for Bike Week. Inside her, though, there is pain and longing that she doesn't dare even think of. She buries everything away. As such, it is impossible to choose a song that truly represents her. Instead, I choose a song that would be on the juke box at Titty's, the bar where Renee works. That song is "Keep Your Hands to Yourself" by the Georgia Satellites. Renee would know every word and sing along. She might even dance up on the bar to it if she'd had enough tequila shots in her. Beneath the surface, though, this choice has deeper meaning to Renee that she might not even be conscious of.
Rick is a user and a drug addict. He seems not to give a shit about anyone. He has no respect for his own mother. None for his girlfriend, Renee. And none for an infant in his care. He seems beyond repair and beyond hope. But inside him there is fear and longing. He was a lost child himself. He might still be redeemed if only he could save himself. For Rick, there is no better song than "Welcome to the Jungle" by Guns ‘N Roses. He is as darkly appealing and charismatic as the young Axl Rose. In fact, he's a bad boy who might just be beyond redemption.
Terry Plunker, aka Plunker, desperately wants something grand in his life and yet he doesn't even know how to reach for what he wants. He is convinced of his lot in life and yet he can't help wanting and wishing for more. His heart is a yearning heart. His heart is the heart of a poet. For him, there can only be one song, "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," by Hank Williams. I imagine Plunker playing this song on his harmonica by his woodstove. I imagine the song running through his head as he drives his ATV up and down the road, watching for the signs of spring in the birds coming home, the leaves greening up.
Iris is broken. Hers is a sadness that is almost beyond words. For Iris, I can choose no other song than "Lagrima" as sung by Misia. My first exposure to Fado was when I saw Misia at the Berklee Perfomance Center in Boston. The people I was with all knew Portuguese but I did not. I thought I would be at a disadvantage and maybe not enjoy the performance. Instead, I was captivated. Fado is beyond words and this song; indeed, Misia's "Lagrima" says more than I could ever say about Iris.
Auntie Marie is a deeply religious woman. A Catholic who refused treatment for her cancer. She grew up partly in a a convent and has spent much of her adult life punishing herself for what she believes is an unforgivable sin. She has always given more of herself than she has taken. The music of Hildegard von Bingen, in particular "De Sancta Maria - Ave Maria, Responsorium," would bring her to her knees--not just in prayer, but in feeling a connection to the sublime beauty of it.
The North Country
The landscape of northern New York--the Adirondack Park, the mountains, the woods, the farm country--is also a character within Echolocation. In fact, it might even be the main character. My heart is there. These are my people and my place. The trees, the snow, the northern lights smothering you with their beauty until you feel you will die from the pleasure of witnessing them. The loon on the lake. The bear lumbering out of the dump. All of it is there. And also the brutality. The fear. The loneliness. The remoteness. But above all, there is beauty.
When my mother was dying, my husband brought me to the Boston Symphony for Beethoven's Missa Solemnis. I was in a bleak place, for sure, but no musical performance has ever moved me more, especially at Kyrie eleison. I was lifted out of my sorrow and into another world. One of beauty despite sorrow. Even today, my head explodes with the beauty of it. This is the feeling I have in the north country--all of the beauty, the sadness, the struggle, and sometimes the failure and sometimes the victory. All of these voices calling out from the darkness. They will live. And always there is this beauty. It is there. And in a sense, that, too, is Echolocation. Voices calling out. We live. We feel. We bleed.
Myfanwy Collins and Echolocation links:
Eclectica Magazine interview with the author
LitStack interview with the author
Matthew Quick interview with the author
Newtonville Books Community Blog interview with the author
Vernacular Literary Blog interview with the author
also at Largehearted Boy:
other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)
100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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