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July 27, 2012

Book Notes - Nichole Bernier "The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D."

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, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. showcases Nichole Bernier's estimable storytelling skills in this debut novel about friendship, love, and motherhood. Given the book's impressive exploration of the relationships in our lives, I have often recommended it for book clubs.

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 Nichole Bernier's Book Notes music playlist for her novel, The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D.:


"Stranded" Van Morrison

My main character Kate Spenser is isolated and lost. It is the anxious summer of 2002, and though she's on vacation with her family on the island they love to visit each year, and she's becoming increasingly unhinged by the anxiety of parenting in an arbitrary post-September 11th world. She knows her emotional response has gone beyond the realm of normal but can't stop the tapes. I love this song because it combines the pleasant sense of the island languor with the melancholy of being in a bind and not knowing how to get unbound.


"Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone" Bill Withers

One of the moodiest crooners of a song I know about missing someone. Shortly before the 9/11 attacks Kate lost her friend Elizabeth in a sudden accident, but she didn't expect the loss and pain to still be so strong a year later. They hadn't been best friends, and were different in many ways. They hadn't even lived in the same city for over a year. Yet Elizabeth's reliability and constancy had become like the comfortable t-shirt you reach for mornings you don't have to impress anyone.


"Stay" Lisa Loeb
"Why" Annie Lennox

In this midst of this ennui of loss, Kate learns she's inherited Elizabeth's journals, a trunk of personal writing she kept her entire life. As she begins to read them, she learns she didn't know her friend nearly as well as she thought—childhood pain, adult aspirations—or the truth about where she was really going when she died. But equally unnerving is the vision of herself as seen through Elizabeth's eyes: the ways Kate underestimated her and let her down in a million small ways.

"I may be mad / I may be blind /I may be viciously unkind /But I can still read what you're thinking…This is the book I never read/These are the words I never said/This is the path I'll never tread/These are the dreams I'll dream instead/This is the joy that's seldom spread/These are the tears, the tears we shed/This is the fear/This is the dread/These are the contents of my head//Do you know how I feel?/ Cause I don't think you know how I feel."


"It's Not Easy Being Green" – Kermit

Elizabeth is a person who's not well known or understood, but people think they do, because who doesn't know the perfect mother? But her journals show exactly how she feels and why she's come to be who she is. What happens when you tell a child that the world will love them more if they smile, smile, smile? What makes a person feel invisible, what makes a person feel seen? What makes a person feel that in order to be appreciated, they have to suppress parts of themselves and force other aspects to the forefront?

"It's not easy being green/ It seems you blend in with so many other ordinary things/ And people tend to pass you over cause you're not standing out like flashy sparkles in the water or stars in the sky."


"Nightswimming" REM
"Cold Water" Damien Rice

I first heard the song "Cold Water" years ago as a dark background song on a television program, a gorgeous gaelic-sounding chant, and ran right to the network's website to see if I could find what the song was. It's stuck with me ever since.

At a pivotal moment of conflict and stress one night, Kate runs down the long yard of their ocean bungalow to the beach and dives into the ocean to clear her mind, swimming with the confidence she used to have as a young swimmer. While running she stubs and breaks her toe on a boulder, and the cold ocean has a numbing effect on the pain but also on the searing knowledge that she let her friend down and now has no way to make it right or learn the full truth.


"Whenever God Shines His Light" Van Morrison
"I Shall Believe" Sheryl Crow
"Stewart's Coat" Rickie Lee Jones

When I was writing the novel, everything was new to me — it was my first foray into fiction, ever, and though I loved nonfiction travel narratives, plotting was something I had no experience with. I didn't know how my novel was going to end, exactly, until I was right upon it. But what I always knew was what the mood would be: uncertain reconciliation, healing and hope. I've always loved Rickie Lee Jones, and "Stewart's Coat" captures that final tone I imagined for Kate.

"Just give me many chances/ I'll see you through it all/ Just give me time to learn to crawl."


Nichole Bernier and The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

Bookreporter review
Boston Globe review
Devourer of Books review
Regular Rumination review
S. Krishna's Reviews review
Washington Post review

Caroline Leavittville interview with the author
Chicago Tribune interview with the author
Minneapolis Star Tribune interview with the author
The Write Connexion interview with the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2012 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

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)
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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