Twitter Facebook Tumblr Pinterest Instagram

« older | Main Largehearted Boy Page | newer »

November 14, 2012

Book Notes - Diana Wagman "The Care and Feeding of Exotic Pets"

The Care and Feeding of Exotic Pets

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."

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 Diana Wagman's Book Notes music playlist for her novel, The Care and Feeding of Exotic Pets:

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:

BookPage review
Kirkus Reviews review
Los Angeles Magazine review
Los Angeles Times review
Publishers Weekly review
The Rumpus review
Wall Street Journal review

Publishers Weekly 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

The list of online "best of 2012" book lists

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

submit to reddit