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September 3, 2013

Book Notes - Kathryn Davis "Duplex"


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.

Kathryn Davis's inventive Duplex dazzles with its language and fantastic premise, this is one of the year's most memorable and finely wrought novels.

Booklist wrote of the book:

"Shrewd, wizardly, archly funny, and emotionally fluent Davis recasts fairy tales, warps time and space, illuminates the inner dynamics of robots, takes us to the beach and a creepy girls’ boarding school, and subtly envisions the perils global warming will bring. The result is an intricately fashioned, wryly stylized, through-the-looking-glass novel of forewarning about the essence of being human, endangered souls and 'ancestral memory,' and how stories keep us afloat."

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 Kathryn Davis's Book Notes music playlist for her novel, Duplex:

Constructing my playlist, I tried to find music associated with those moments in my life that combined to create the world of Duplex. The book isn't literally autobiographical—as far as I know there wasn't a family of robots living on the street where I grew up. But in the way that everything anyone writes is on some level autobiographical—coming, as it does, out of the self—I intended this book to be true to life. There is, after all, a first person narrator tucked away in the story…

Bach's Prelude in C Major, as played by Glenn Gould: It's not just that it's Bach—who Glenn Gould called "the greatest architect of sound who ever lived"—but that it's Glenn Gould—who, like the robots in my book, was no fan of Romanticism—playing Bach. If the robots in my book played the piano they would sound like Glenn Gould. But this is because my robots are artists of precision, not because Glenn Gould ever sounded like a robot.

"The Heather on the Hill" (Ideally from the 1954 film starring Gene Kelly, Van Johnson and Cyd Charisse): This song makes an appearance in the book, where it's sung by the girls on the street as night begins to fall and they're headed for home. It comes from the Broadway musical, "Brigadoon"—a story of two Americans hunting in Scotland who get lost and stumble into a village that only appears for a single day once every hundred years. The musical is based on "Germelshausen," a disturbing German tale by Friedrich Gerstäcker; though the mood of the musical is decidedly less creepy, it retains the detail that if any inhabitant of the town tries to leave, the whole town will disappear forever along with all the other inhabitants. Aside from being attracted to the Scottish setting and Scottish-sounding music, I was fascinated by the idea that a place and all the people in it could vanish as if they never existed, merely because of one rebellious act. I wanted the girls on the street to sing a song from a Broadway musical, the way we used to when I was a girl, and this musical seemed appropriate to the world of the book.

"My Little Red Book," recorded by Love. I was shocked to discover that this began as a Burt Bacharach song, since when I was in art school (like Mary in my book to whom I otherwise bear no resemblance) the crazy insistent beat of it always sounded to me like I was being hit over the head by reality in a very danceable and unreal way. Love also had a song about the end of the world called "Mushroom Cloud," but "Little Red Book" always sounded more apocalyptic to me.

"Hm! hm! hm! hm! hm! hm! hm!" The Queen of the Night's aria in Mozart's Die Zauberflöte (Sumi Jo, Wiener Philharmoniker) The year I was writing The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf and was obsessed by opera, my daughter wanted to be the Queen of the Night for Halloween, her wish for a perfect costume somewhat hampered by the fact that I was out of town on Halloween and my husband put something together using a staple gun. The sound of this aria is heated and crazed and entirely appropriate to the interplay in Duplex between Miss Vicks and the Sorcerer—between people and magic, really—there being no such thing as innocent magic.

"Take Me Out to the Ballgame" (Ideally as sung by a crowd of fans at Fenway Park; the May 6, 2010 version I found on YouTube sounded good): This song actually—and not surprisingly, given the fact that one of the central characters in Duplex turns out to be a professional ballplayer—also makes an appearance in the book. But since Duplex is a coming of old-age story, the choice strikes me as even more fitting. According to family legend, my father used to sing this song to me as a lullaby when I was having trouble sleeping. I sang the same song to him when he was on his deathbed. He'd been quiet for a long time, but joined in to sing along with "I don't care if I never get back."

Kathryn Davis and Duplex links:

excerpt from the book (audio of the author reading)

Kirkus review
Minneapolis Star Tribune review
NPR Books review

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
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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