August 15, 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, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.
Susan Conley's Paris Was the Place is a remarkable debut novel about family, friendship, and home.
Booklist wrote of the book:
"Deftly exploring the complexities of friendship, family, and commitment, Conley adroitly demonstrates her infectious passion for Paris through an extensive and intimate portrait of the inner workings concealed behind its seductive façade."
My new novel Paris Was the Place tries to capture this big, sudden, knock you off your feet kind of love affair in Paris between an American woman named Willie Pears, and Macon Ventri, a passionate, idealistic French immigration lawyer. I wanted to render this love as the kind that arrives out of nowhere and sort of blindsides you. In the case of my novel, it's a love that starts in the cramped hall of a teenage refugee center in the tenth arrondisement of Paris—the kind of love that leaves your breathless and then breaks into so many little pieces that Willie then has to work to put back together.
I went to Ray LaMontagne for the heart wrenching, gritty love songs that the novel needed underneath it. I had a bit of a repetitive spin cycle going with his song "Three More Days" off of the album Till the Sun Turns Black. It's a sexy song that has all this anticipation built into its chorus and its bridge. Willie and Macon have to wait to be together in the novel, and "Three More Days" kept helping me conjure that tension they both felt.
I'm not a big Coldplay fan really, but their song "Us Against the World" off the Mylo Xyloto album really also fit the mood I was after. In some ways Willie and Macon weren't meant to be together. There were cultural differences and ex-wives and a child all getting in the way of them, and yet they found a way to connect in a pick up truck driving to the south of France together. There's a simplicity to this one Coldplay song that I wanted to try to extend to all my characters in the novel—a sense of things becoming much more elemental and real. Willie and Macon are both deeply connected to the refugee center where they work—Willie as a volunteer teacher and Macon as an overworked lawyer, and this song "Us Against the World" also extends to contain all the teenage girls forced to live at the center, awaiting deportation.
David Torn's "End Credit Suite" off of the Lars and the Real Girl soundtrack is a song that could be played through many chapters of my novel. It's a simple, melodic piece without vocals that implies hope but also real tension. I think this whole soundtrack is stunning, but I go back to this suite when the characters in the book need to get really quiet and focused.
Madeleine Peyroux's "River of Tears" is another great love song that has a really simple structure that asked to be played multiple times on some writing days. With her Billie Holiday-esque smoky voice, Peyroux helped take me back to Paris each time I listened to her, and she became an essential on the play list.
Alexi Murdoch's song "All My Days" has a kind of timelessness to it and an underlying melancholy that I tried to translate into scenes in the novel where Willie's brother is sick and where Gita, the teenage refugee who Willie tries to help, decides to take drastic measures. There's a lot of travel and talk of travel in the book: subways and inter-continental plane rides and taxis and trucks and trains. And there's also a great deal of dislocation and a constant questioning of who belongs and why they belong and how they belong. "All My Days" has this retrospective quality to it that feels like it creates a nice backdrop for all that dislocation.
Sometimes I needed slightly dreamy, associative, melodic music and The Pines' Dark So Gold album was a nice choice, especially the song "All The While." I found myself trying to capture these understated male voices in the book, and this song really helped as a portal into that world. In contrast to all that quiet, Lisa Hannigan's song "Home" from the Passenger album is more explicitly emotional and has more of a driving intensity that rounds out the play list.
And then the final song would have to be Antje Duvekot's song "Sweet Spot" off her Live From All Over the Place album. This song is a celebration and a triumph and a piercing reminder to all the characters in the novel to live in the moment. It's a beautiful song and one that I think Willie and her brother Luke would both like, but for slightly different reasons. Whenever I hear this song, I feel gratitude and that's what I hope readers are left with when they finish Paris Was the Place—an understanding of the gratitude that Willie feels for having known Luke and having known Gita and for having loved Macon.
Susan Conley and Paris Was the Place links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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