February 5, 2013
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.
Man in the Empty Suit is as cleverly written a novel as I have read in years. The inventor of the time machine visits the same bar every year on his birthday to celebrate with his past and future selves. Then one of him gets killed and this complex and thought provoking literary mystery begins.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune wrote of the book:
"'Man in the Empty Suit' is a wise meditation on our own fixation on the past. One set piece at the party finds the narrator's past and future selves gathered to watch films of their past exploits. There's a theme of connectedness here, both the narrator's fraught relationships with his past and future selves, and a later plot line involving a kind of grand-scale role-playing."
Unlike the songlist for my first novel, Numb, I can’t choose songs that remind me of the characters in Man in the Empty Suit. There is a simple reason for this: almost all the characters in Man in the Empty Suit are the same man. He’s a time traveler attending a birthday party, and all the guests are him of various ages. Older and younger versions of the narrator clog the halls and bar of a derelict hotel in 2071--one of them a murderer, another a victim, all of them suspects. The narrator is left to figure out why and when while being assaulted by Youngsters, lectured to by Elders, and coming up with nicknames for the various instances of himself such as Nose, Yellow, Screwdriver, Seventy and The Drunk.
The songs below are those that I think capture the spirit of moments in the book. A sense of panic here, guilt there, and a whiff of sublimation breezing over all of it. Each song is accompanied by a quote from the book. I think that the narrator would agree that these songs capture his moments, especially those in which he’s hardest on himself. And if ever there was a song to make you realize that every choice you’ve ever made was the wrong one, it’s the last song on this list.
"Nobody's Fault But My Own" by Beck
I closed my eyes briefly to escape their rheumy glares. Beyond the thin wall of gray or graying heads bubbled the growing mass of children, silent, curious, trying to listen in to our conversation. “A Youngster did this.”
Seventy held up a hand. “As I said before, now is not a time for blame. No one is to blame.”
“Bullshit,” said Blazer. “We know who’s to blame. This young shit fucked it up. All he had to do—”
“All he had to do is something we haven’t managed in years of trying.” Seventy’s attempt to smile like a grandfather failed. “You know what we know. And we know nothing."
"Bone Broke" by The White Stripes
This room was just as the others—lousy with dust and plaster grit. Lily and I lay for a minute on broken glass. Too tired to move, I watched the rise and fall of her chest. As her breath slowed, so did mine, and we climbed to our feet, picked glass from our skin and clothes.
“They’ll know where we are,” she said.
We left the room, headed away from the stairwell toward the end of the hotel. A noise behind us made me turn, certain it was Youngsters already bursting from the stairs. There was nothing there, some dust settling from the ceiling, the building exhaling.
"Mass & Spring" by Amon Tobin
This time I parked in the dried-out bowl of Central Park’s Pond. My machine winked in about four inches above the brown-clay mud bottom and then slid slightly lower into the septic water. I swore softly, but there was no finding a better spot. Once landed, the raft took nearly a full twenty-four hours to run again, and so parking was always cautious guesswork seasoned with a rush of panic. I powered the raft down, muttering to myself about the stupidity of choosing such a spot in a rainstorm. None of the drug dealers doing business in the bushes around me said anything. People willing to brave the storm to hang out in Central Park weren’t the sort to talk about seeing a shuddering metallic platform appear in midair. I took my time covering the raft with a blue tarp and left the park, guided by familiar lightning flashes, one ear perked for parrot conversations.
"The Butcher" by Radiohead
“Take me home. I want to go home.” Her voice was thin and airless. I reached around her, found the exit wound at her back. I tried to hold it closed with my palm, my tears dripping onto her red dress. Behind me came footsteps. I turned around as Seventy and Yellow stepped into the suite from the hallway. Behind them was Screwdriver, my jacket in hand, face flushed and sweaty, masked in anguish. He knelt beside me. Lily looked up at me and sighed.
"3's & 7's" by Queens of the Stone Age
The answer sat on the stool on Yellow’s other side. The Drunk. His odor was immense, a mix of alcohol and urine. He was one you didn’t look at or talk to. He was given wide berth in the halls. The Drunk was avoided, misremembered, blamed. I looked at him closely for the first time in years and drew in a sharp breath, which I instantly regretted for the vapors rising from him. Several things I noticed surprised me. His clothes were the same suit I was wearing, redesigned by filth. Under his beard and grime, he wasn’t as old as I’d always thought. He was young, barely older than me. Perhaps only a year or two older.
"Get Over Here" by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
Seventy raised his silver-knobbed cane and pointed it at me, like a wand, as if his will might fly from it and turn me into a frog or a table lamp. “You take those guns with you when you leave here or I’ll beat you so you can’t chew snot.”
"Up, Up and Away" by The Fifth Dimension
Behind me the Fifth Dimension skipped. Repeated suggestions to fly away in a balloon, their panic palpable, filled the room. Yellow walked over to do whatever it was the Elders did with the record player.
Sean Ferrell and Man in the Empty Suit links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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