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March 11, 2014

Book Notes - Laura McHugh "The Weight of Blood"

The Weight of Blood

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.

The Weight of Blood is a dark and suspenseful debut novel by Laura McHugh, a literary thriller incisively told from several points of view.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"This is an outstanding first novel, replete with suspense, crisp dialogue, and vivid Ozarks color and atmosphere."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In her own words, here is Laura McHugh's Book Notes music playlist for her novel, The Weight of Blood:


"Barton Hollow" by The Civil Wars

The Weight of Blood is set in Henbane, an isolated Ozark Mountain town rife with secrets and superstition. When I shared the beginning of the novel in a small critique group, two people said it made them think of the song "Barton Hollow" by The Civil Wars. One of them sent me a link to the video, and I liked it so much that I had to buy the album. "Barton Hollow" has the same sinister backwoods feel (and hint of dark, hidden deeds) that permeates Henbane.

Ain't going back to Barton Hollow

Devil gonna follow me e'er I go

Won't do me no good washing in the river

Can't no preacher man save my soul


"Dog Days Are Over" by Florence and the Machine

I listened to the Lungs album quite a bit while writing the book, and whenever I heard "Dog Days Are Over," I would think of Lila, a character in the book who has lost everyone close to her. Lila has to find a way to move forward, because there’s no going back.

Leave all your love and your longing behind
You can’t carry it with you if you want to survive
The dog days are over

The dog days are done

Can you hear the horses?

'Cause here they come


"This Street, That Man, This Life" by Cowboy Junkies

I used to have a car with a CD changer in the trunk. It was a pain to change out the discs, so I listened to the same music for long stretches of time. Cowboy Junkies’ Black Eyed Man album stayed in there for five years, and I never got tired of it. This song makes me think of Henbane—the way a community keeps its secrets close, and people mind their own business even when they know something terrible is happening in their midst. Lucy learns this all too well as she seeks answers in the murder of her friend, Cheri, and discovers what happened to her own mother, who went missing years ago.

This street holds its secrets like a cobra holds its kill

This street minds its business like a jailer minds his jail

That house there is haunted

That door's a portal to hell

This street holds its secrets very well


"Achy Breaky Heart" by Billy Ray Cyrus

This song was hugely popular in southern Missouri, where I was living in 1992. Whether you liked it or not, it was a defining element of that time and place. I heard "Achy Breaky Heart" all day and night, blaring from customers’ pickup trucks as I worked the McDonald’s drive-thru the summer before I left for college. In the book, it’s playing on the radio as Judd drives Lila to Henbane. Judd changes the station only to find the song playing on the other stations as well. Lila is alone in the world, and she’s moving to this isolated town for a questionable job because she has no other options. "Achy Breaky Heart" playing on all the radio stations at once is probably the first sign that Lila should get out of the truck and run away from Henbane as fast as she can.


"You Are the Wilderness" by Voxhaul Broadcast

During the time I was writing and revising the novel, I was a stay-at-home mom of two small children who hated to sleep. In order to carve out more time for writing, I gave up my guilty pleasures, like reading magazines and watching TV. The Walking Dead was the one television series that I couldn’t give up, and I started to notice how much I liked the music on the show. I bought the soundtrack and listened to it while I worked on my edits. "You Are the Wilderness" reminded me so much of Crete, the older of the two Dane brothers, and a formidable presence in Henbane. The song is dark and aggressive like Crete, and I imagined his feelings for Lila coming from the same raw place as the song lyrics….there’s a wolf in my heart for you.


"Ghosts" by The Head and the Heart

I like folksy music turned down low when I’m writing, and for the past year or so my work playlist has included groups like The Avett Brothers, Mumford & Sons, The Head and the Heart, Of Monsters and Men, and The Lumineers. "Ghosts" made me think of Lucy, who longs to leave the small town she has grown up in, but knows the fierce pull of home.

All my friends are talkin' about leavin', about leavin'

But all my friends are sittin' in their graves

Is it any wonder why we all leave home?

People say, "I knew you when you were six years old"

And you say, "But I've changed, I've changed, I've changed, I've changed."


My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic soundtrack

My preschooler is obsessed with My Little Pony—the toys, the show, the underwear. If I needed a few minutes of uninterrupted time for something important—say, a phone call with my editor—I would put on an episode of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic to keep my daughter entertained. There are ninety-one episodes, and lots of singing. Those high-pitched pony ditties are all seared into my brain, and forever linked to the period of my life where I transitioned from frazzled-stay-at-home-mom to frazzled-stay-at-home-mom/novelist.


The Max Hunter Folk Song Collection

The Ozark region has a rich musical heritage, and I had the privilege of hearing many great fiddlers and dulcimer players when I lived there. I listened to Ozark folk songs from The Max Hunter Collection (there are about 1600 recordings online at http://maxhunter.missouristate.edu/) whenever I needed to sink back into the roots of the place I was writing about. As Lila notes when she and Carl Dane listen to recordings of his parents singing, many Ozark folk songs—love songs in particular—are downright tragic. Fitting theme music for The Weight of Blood.


Surfer Rosa, Bossanova, and Doolittle by The Pixies

When I needed to unwind from a long day of writing, I would listen to these three albums on shuffle.


Laura McHugh and The Weight of Blood links:

the author's website

BookPage review
Kirkus review
Publishers Weekly 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

Online "Best of 2013" Book Lists
2013 Year-End Online Music Lists

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)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists


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