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April 24, 2013

Book Notes - Julie Sarkissian "Dear Lucy"

Dear Lucy

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, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Breathtaking in its unique voice, Julie Sarkissian's Dear Lucy is one of the year's most striking debuts, a novel haunting. lyrical, and profound.

Ann Hood wrote of the book:

"The most original and stunning debut I have read in a long time. Dear Lucy is one of those rare delights that you cannot put down, and once you do, you can't forget."

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 Julie Sarkissian's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel, Dear Lucy:

Something is wrong with Lucy, the narrator of my debut novel, Dear Lucy. What exactly is wrong with her is never named, but she is developmentally childlike in her limited vocabulary, impulse control and her sense of wonder. Lucy's social climbing mother has deserted her to work on a dilapidated farm owned by an eerie old couple named Mister and Missus. On the farm Lucy develops a deep, unlikely friendship with a pregnant teenager named Samantha. As the dark past of Mister and Missus is uncovered, Lucy – with the help of her talking pet chicken - must risk everything to help the only friend she has ever known.

The music I listened to while writing Dear Lucy is as playful as it is eerie, esoteric as it is childlike, and juxtaposes the delights of innocence against the bitterness of life's disappointments.


Joanna Newsom – "Inflammatory Writ"

Joanna's childlike, pixie voice exactly how I imagine Lucy sounding like if Lucy were a brilliant singer, and Joanna's brash plunking, almost banging, on the piano is just how Lucy would tickle the ivories, if she ever got the chance.

As Lucy explains it, "she doesn't have many words," but the ones she does have, she cherishes. The sparkle of the genius rhyme in Inflammatory Writ would delight Lucy's love for the language- though she may not understand a single world. And, to tell the truth, I don't know what greater meaning "even Mollusks have wedding's, though solemn and leaden," is intended to impart. But, a la Gertrude Stein, Joanna Newsom's tender love for language is clear to anyone who listens.


Arthur Russell - "Soon to-be Innocent Fun/ Let's See"

This eerie song: the vocals barely audible, the scratch of the rod against the string louder than the note itself, evokes the painful, laborious process of creation. The title of the song, when coupled with its length of almost ten minutes, suggests that the road to any sort of satisfaction is going to be very long, and that there are no guarantees. This song makes the sentiment "let's see" sound decidedly hopeless.

The Farm – owned by Mister and Missus – is no longer the salubrious place of growth and prosperity it was long ago. The crumbling house and the stunted growth of the crops mirror the slowly decomposing lives of Mister and Missus. But despite numerous disappointments and subsequent bitterness, Mister and Missus keep toiling, each day a little harder than the one it came before, just the each note of "Soon To-Be Innocent Fun/ Let's See" is a fight to stay alive.


Carl Orff – "Musica Poetica Stuck fur Kinder"

This beloved melody couldn't be more simple but its beauty is arresting. It reminds me of something brilliant a child would say; a truism that we take for granted, that when put in the correct context, reveals it's profundity all over again. Lucy marvels that maggots spring from rotten meat, chicken's hatch from eggs and babies can grow in bellies in language so stark and straightforward that it makes the reader realize that miracles are happening all around us, all the time.


Deerhunter – "Desire Lines"

This is the song of an escape. It begins with overpowering bass and percussion. The melody has to fight to be heard. But chorus sings of "walking free," and likewise, the luminous melody is allowed shine during the brief chorus, before the bass guitar comes back like a prisoner guard to lock it up. Ninety percent of this song is discordant – almost ugly- but the ten percent that is beautiful posses a sense of levity that transcends the dissonance of the rest.

Samantha's fantasies offer her respite from her life on the farm; from her pregnant body; from promises she never should have been allowed to make. The brief chorus of this song validates the entire song; just as Samantha's fantasies are the only color in her otherwise bleak, oppressive existence.


Daniel Johnston – "I Live My Broken Dreams"

Does the beauty of Daniel Johnston shine through his limitations, or is the beauty of his music created from his limitations? It is inspiring to overlook the suffering caused by mental impairment – caused by mental illness or mental retardation – and focus on the beauty such individuals are capable of. But to do so can be overshadow the painful reality of those people's existence.

Lucy is kindred spirits with Daniel Johnston; the unique poetry that springs forth from their cognitive differences is deeply moving. But nothing – not even beauty- is powerful enough to obscure the pain and isolation that results from their respective mental conditions.


Kate Bush – "Wuthering Heights"

It is impossible for Lucy to tell a lie, control her impulses or bite her tongue, just as it is impossible for Kate Bush to temper the passions that send her barreling through this song.

Bush takes us on a mercurial journey through the famous 19th century love/ghost story. The subject matter is esoteric (at least for an 80's pop song) and the pace is quick, but Bush doesn't have time to wait for the listener to catch up. The literary references may be lost on some, but the unabashed desire to tell her story shines through. Lucy and Kate have no choice but to express themselves the only way they know how – uninhibited and with abandon. Just don't expect either one to stop and explain what they are talking about.


Penguin Café Orchestra – "Music for a Found Harmonium"

Music for a Found Harmonica"" seems a plain and simple song. It is composed of nothing but a short, uncomplicated melody repeated over and over and over. It evokes a musical exercise, or a skipping record.

Mister and Missus, the owners of The Farm, also appear to be plain and simple; their clothes, food, and routines haven't changed for decades. (Nor have their obsessions wavered.) But compulsive repetition of the song: never breaking away into a bridge or chorus, never changing key or tempo -- like the never changing of Mister and Missus -- demonstrates that simplicity can be incredibly mysterious, and very unnerving.


M. Ward – "Here Comes the Sun Again"

Much of Dear Lucy" is story of waiting. Lucy waits for her mother to come back to the farm to collect her. Samantha waits for her pregnancy to be over and life to begin anew. Mister waits for the crops to grow and for Missus to be happy again. Missus waits for God to make good on his promises He made to her.

"Here Comes the Sun Again" is the wait being over- if only for the duration of a song. And a song may be as close as any of the characters in Dear Lucy get to having what they dream about.


Julie Sarkissian and Dear Lucy links:

video trailer for the book

Publishers Weekly review
Stylist review

Brooklyn Daily Eagle interview with the author
Huffington Post contributions by the author
Trop 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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