November 14, 2012
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.
Highly suspenseful and thoughtfully interspersed with violence and dark humor, Diana Wagman's The Care and Feeding of Exotic Pets is one of the year's finest psychological thrillers.
Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:
"Wagman’s talent for imagery is well served by the subject matter, and the story is perfectly paced, with humorous breaks in the tension. A PEN Center USA Award winner (for Spontaneous), Wagman has crafted an unusual thriller for psychological crime devotees and fans of the peculiar."
I struggle with music. I have a hard time doing anything with music playing. I can't think. It means too much to me. I become absorbed, it makes me itch, it makes me cry the bad kind of tears that hurt my nose and fill my chest. I rarely listen to music unless I can give myself to it entirely. On a long car trip (and all trips in the car in LA are long) or those rare moments when I am home alone. Sometimes I cook with music playing, or clean, although I've been known to leave the corn out of the cornbread and forget the laundry in the hallway.
Obviously I don't listen to music as I write, but I have learned a lot from music and I try to make my writing musical. I want it to have the same movement and complexity. I work hard to make it build and evolve like our favorite songs. My greatest wish would be for a story of mine to move someone like the Bach Cello Suite #1 moves me.
The Care and Feeding of Exotic Pets is Winnie and Oren's story. She's the kidnapped and he's the kidnapper. They are two notes that don't go together. Like G and C#, they're discordant and the listener, the reader, wants one to resolve, either C# to D or the G to A. But we get used to them and they begin to compliment one another. They never really harmonize, but each moves a little toward the other. Winnie falls a little bit in love with Oren, and he with her, even as he threatens her and smashes her hand in the door.
Finally, each character has their own music, and the music I hear when I think of them would be my mix tape for this novel.
Mozart Piano Concerto #22 in E Flat
Oren is this concerto. It is so wistful, with so much longing and desire impossible to fill. He never moves crazy fast, he's not Glen Gould doing the Goldberg Variations, but Oren is complicated and multi-layered and occasionally surprising. Poor guy, he had a plan, but he's in way over his head. This concerto is his music, but as played by a valiant but struggling high school orchestra.
"No More I Love Yous" by Annie Lennox
Winnie, on the other hand, is stuck back in 1996, the year her game show host husband left her. She listens to the sappiest Top 40 songs on the radio, all the women like Sarah McLachlan and Norah Jones and Adele, and sings along although she has no voice. Her sentimental choices mortify her 16-year-old daughter, Lacy, who rolls up the car windows and sinks down in her seat.
Unfortunately, as the novel begins, the soundtrack for Winnie's life is NPR and the bad news on the talk radio stations all day long. Chatter, chatter, chatter, most of it depressing, all of it nothing she can do anything about.
"The Ruiner" by Mastodon
"Got the Life" by Korn
Sonata for Flute and Piano in G Major by Hayden
Lacy, the troubled teenaged daughter, claims to love metal. She is, blonde, white, privileged, and wants to be bad and dangerous. She put the Korn ringtone on her phone just to annoy her mom and maybe, hopefully, impress her friends. She plays the flute in the school orchestra and used to dream of playing the Hayden Sonata for Flute and Piano in G Major, but she's too cool for that now.
"My Heart Will Go On," from the movie Titanic, music by James Roy Horner
Meanwhile, Buster, a classmate, who has loved her since sixth grade, sees her as a wood nymph playing a on the pipes of Pan. When he thinks about her—which he does all the time—he hears a flute version of My Heart Will Go On from Titanic.
"Fortunate Son" by Credeence Clearwater Revival
For himself, Buster likes that smart, political music from the late 60's and 70's. He has raided his parents' box of albums in the basement and listens to Country Joe and the Fish, The Band, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, and of course Creedence Clearwater Revival.
"Beat It" by Michael Jackson
I was having a hard time writing a small but significant character, Kidney, the laid off Saturn factory worker turned high-end reptile smuggler. I knew how I wanted him to be, but I couldn't get him smarmy, odd, and dark enough. Then I heard Michael Jackson's "Beat It" in a department store and I remembered the ridiculousness of that 80's music video. I also remembered that many people thought was very, very cool and I knew Kidney was one of those people. All these years later, he has never given it up. He is a Michael Jackson fanatic and before delivering his exotic pets he practices moonwalking and grabbing his crotch in the motel room mirror.
"I Can't Walk Away" by The Eagles
This is Cookie the Iguana's song. He's unhappy, lonely, and he wishes Oren would just give him to the zoo. But then he meets Winnie and becomes obsessed. He doesn't want to be, he knows she's trouble for him, but he just can't walk away. Plus, physically he's caged in the kitchen with no opportunity for escape.
Diana Wagman and The Care and Feeding of Exotic Pets links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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