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August 24, 2012

Book Notes - Molly Ringwald "When It Happens to You"

When It Happens to You

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.

Molly Ringwald's When It Happens to You is a nuanced and assured fiction debut.

The Washington Post wrote of the book:

"A large part of what makes this novel-in-stories so enjoyable is its structure, the way the connections between characters unfold from piece to piece. Each story could stand on its own, but they fit together to reveal links among these family members, neighbors and friends in Los Angeles."

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 Molly Ringwald's Book Notes music playlist for her novel, When It Happens to You:

I wrote my book When It Happens to You a Novel in Stories around the subject of betrayal—all the ways that we betray each other and ourselves. It takes place over the course of a year in the life of a marriage. Greta and Phillip married young and built what looked to be a perfect life together—a beautiful daughter and a lovely home, but from the beginning of the story it is clear that something in their marriage is broken. Throughout the book there are other characters that connect and intersect in their lives as they all try to come to terms with the choices they have made and how to find their way back to a kind of happiness.

Many of the songs below I listened to while I was writing.

The Harvest Moon

"No Surprises" by Radiohead

"The Harvest Moon" takes place at the moment before everything in Greta and Phillip's marriage falls apart. I have always loved Radiohead for their minor chords and the sense of melancholy and incredible foreboding.


"Gold in Them Hills" by Ron Sexsmith

Ron Sexsmith is an artist that I have listened to for years. His voice is so beautiful and moving. "Redbud" is a story between Greta and her mother. Greta is looking to her mother as a source of comfort even as she realizes that she can no longer look to her parents for the same comfort that she could as a child. For me, in a way this story is about that moment of reckoning.

My Olivia

"Candy Says" by Antony and the Johnsons

"My Olivia" is about Marina, a single mother whose six-year child (Oliver) intentifies as a girl and only wants to be called Olivia. The song "Candy Says" written by Lou Reed about the famous Candy Darling is one of the most poignant songs—really the only I can think of—about someone who is trapped in the body of the gender that doesn't belong to them. Antony's interpretation of the song I imagined to be the inner voice of my little Olivia.

Ursa Minor

"On The Street Where You Live" by Rickie Lee Jones

Peter is a Yale trained actor who somehow got stuck as the host of a children's television show for fifteen years. When we meet him he has been fired and in putting his life back together, he comes out to visit in his sister in Los Angeles and ends up falling in love. This version of "On the Street where You Live" from My Fair Lady has always seemed to me to be one of the most joyous versions of this song. In fact I listened to it on a non-stop loop when I fell in love with my husband.

When It Happens To You

"Kol Nidrei Max Bruch" performed by Jacqueline du Pre

"When it Happen to You" is a story told in the voice of Greta that reveals the very depth of her heartbreak. Since this is the only story in the collection that doesn't follow a straight narrative, and is almost a prose poem, I never listened to anything with lyrics. This song just seemed to have the perfect nuances and heartbreak to accompany the title story.

The Little One

The Goldberg Variations 15 a 1 Canone alla Quinta Adante Bach performed by Glenn Gould
"La Cinquitaine" performed by Brianna Kahane ( I'm not sure that she has any formal recordings, but you can watch her on YouTube. Astounding.)

Betty is a 73-year-old woman who, while mourning the loss of her beloved husband, develops an unlikely friendship with Greta and Phillip's six-year-old daughter Charlotte. Betty only listens to classical music—especially Glenn Gould's Goldberg Variations. And Charlotte is a bit of a violin prodigy. She plays this song at one point for Betty and I was actually inspired by a six-year-old violin prodigy named Brianna Kahane.

Mea Culpa

"Once in a Lifetime" by Talking Heads

"Mea Culpa" is written from the husband Phillip's point of view. It's a window into where he has gotten to where he is—how he got so lost. Once in a Lifetime to me is the quintessential song of that moment in your life where you realize you are not at all the person that you set out to be.

The Places You Don't Walk Away From

"Drop and Anchor" by Mates of State

"Home" by David Byrne and Brian Eno

"The Places You Don't Walk Away From" was taken from a quote attributed to Joan Didion: "You have to pick the places you don't walk away from". I took it because our couple is at the point where they need to decide whether to stay and fight for their marriage or walk away and start over.

I love this song from Mates of State because it is a song of healing and connection. I especially love the line "And I could be an anchor, drop me in the bay and watch me hold you steady."

The song "Home" by David Byrne and Brian Eno to me is a beautiful song about the ways in which home is both a comfort and a place of unrest.

Molly Ringwald and When It Happens to You links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

Washington Post review

Chicago Tribune interview with the author
Interview Magazine interview with the author
Kirkus Reviews interview with the author
Los Angeles Times profile of the author
Shelf Life profile of the author
USA Today interview with the author
Weekend Edition profile of 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)
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musician/author interviews
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Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
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weekly music & DVD release lists

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