April 25, 2014
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.
Adrianne Harun's debut novel A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain is a striking debut novel that hauntingly blends folklore and magical realism into modern life.
The New York Times wrote of the book:
"'A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain' proves that Harun is heir apparent to Louise Erdrich and Harry Crews. Her characters shimmer and squirm in liminal spaces, nether regions of geography, race, spirituality and aesthetics. This novel is a mesmerizing incantation, harrowing and hypnotic."
Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.
A Man Who Came Out of a Door in the Mountain takes place in an unnamed fictional town in northern British Columbia, just off Highway 16, the infamous Highway of Tears. Over the past decades (decades!), a great many women and girls have gone missing and/or been found dead in that area, and for a very long time, it has seemed as if the authorities have lacked not just the means but also the will to fully investigate. In other words, most of these murders and disappearances, which are still occurring, are unsolved. Many people have put the lack of progress down to the fact that most of victims have been indigenous – First Nation. Violence against women is constant, but violence against Native women is off the charts. That's the backdrop and impetus for the novel, but not really the story here. The central story follows five close friends – Leo, Tessa, Bryan, Ursie, and Jackie -- over several summer days as they encounter a few disparate strangers who arrive in that isolated town and create upheaval in already precariously balanced lives. Twined within that storyline are other shorter interludes that make up a kind of shadow narrative. These first seem to be simple cautionary tales about forms of the devil, told by the main narrator Leo's Uncle Lud, but gradually they are taken over by another far less helpful voice, perhaps that of the devil himself.
I am one of those truly annoying people who fall headlong into a song and play it ceaselessly until my family shuns me and even the local dogs, anticipating my own relentless humming, yowl when they see me coming. There's not much that's linear about this list, but here's what mesmerized me as the novel was taking shape.
Leonard Cohen: "There is a War" and "Anthem"
Leonard Cohen is the musical godfather of this novel, which opens with an epigraph from "There is a War": There is a war between the ones who say there is a war and the ones who say there isn't. So much of the novel has to do with awareness – of good and evil, of class, of race – and with willful blindness, too. This song is the set-up for the novel, the grounding battle underway.
Cohen's "Anthem" also figures – more hopefully – in one chapter where Leo corresponds with his online physics instructor, a slightly unhinged former poet named Leila Chen who is infatuated with the wisdom of Leonard Cohen and ends each email with a quotation from a LC song. Despite Leo's seemingly complete failure as a physics student, he gets this key fact: "There is a crack in everything; that's how the light gets in."
Anais Mitchell: "Young Man in America"
I've nearly worn this sucker out. Mitchell so fully captures the desperation and desire that engulfs and infuriates a soul that's on the verge of being lost forever. "Young Man in America" calls up so many near-abandoned, abused, and abusive young ones – men and women alike. Mitchell is a great storytelling musician – she makes the particular universal -- and even though Leo and his friends might not be as desperate, they're riding a familiar edge.
Laurie Anderson: "Big Science"
The title track from Anderson's album begins with a wolf howl, and it's followed by a wild creation, a fabricated place constantly under construction and revision by more than one voice. Again, the song seems to reflect the world of the novel in that crux between the real and the invented, the twisting between possible realities, and that lilting parallel chorus – world shaping.
David Byrne and St. Vincent: "Who"
Listening to this track, I found myself murmuring, Who's this inside of me? Who made a big mistake? and even, Who is an honest man? Who, indeed? As creepy as the questions can be, there's also an element of something that at first glance seems like dark fun, of escaping. It's seductive, just like this song. Nearly every character in the book is wrestling with an inner battle, save for the ones who've fully given over, who've long since stopped knowing about the "other" inside.
Beach House: "Auburn and Ivory"
This chilling track makes me think of two characters in the novel whose allure can engender suicidal desires: Hana Swann and Snow Woman. That eerie call to "come to me" – it's insidious and irresistible, a form of hypnotism. The last lines also compel an image of the ponytailed girl, the child alone on edge of the highway.
Johnny Cash: "The Devil's Right Hand"
Bad schemes abound in this novel, and even when motives are honorable, reason takes a back seat. The plans are beyond foolhardy and guided by something outside the characters. This thrumming, full-throttled Cash song is a headlong, but matter-of-fact, plunge that mimics that rush into disaster.
Mary Margaret O'Hara: "Body's in Trouble"
I am a huge, huge – even obsessive -- fan of Mary Margaret O'Hara and have listened to the entirely glorious Miss America album so many times that I feel as if O'Hara's dreamy, passionate persona drifted around my tiny workroom for weeks on end. I love watching her perform, and I'm probably on some odd list that notes fanatical viewings of particular video clips. (I still anticipate warning, anti-stalker emails from YouTube.) Hers is a sensibility that pervades the novel, seeping into Uncle Lud's stories and Leo's own state of bald desire and uncertainty – and Bryan's and Ursie's and Tessa's and Jackie's. Yup, the body's in trouble, ever in trouble.
Tragically Hip: "Locked in the Trunk of a Car"
The thematic link between this song and the novel is purely accidental. It's the frantic beat that got me here and that wail to let me out! Even though it's clear the voice of the song mostly belongs to a serial killer, there's still that odd coupling, the movement between the killer and the man in the trunk, both banging away to be let out, which was beyond chilling to me.
Talking Heads: "Slippery People"
Those waking-up moments – when the characters surface from what seems like possession – these should offer a sense of relief or even triumph, but a tussle is still underway. Those "slippery people" can be strangely familiar and a kind of insidious comfort and so hard to look away from. And too, now everyone is alone again and that's a relief and a blessing, but a sick loss, too. David Byrne feels like the perfect companion to explain the state of things about this point.
Tom Waits: "God's Away on Business"
Leonard Cohen may be its musical godfather, but Tom Waits's "God's Away on Business" owns the novel's dark heart, that shadow narrative. No matter who makes it through, everyone is nicked by loss and inattention and temptations that have as much to do with survival as with yearning.
Godddamn there's always such a big temptation
To be good, to be good
There's always free cheddar in a mousetrap, baby
It's a deal, it's a deal.
Youth Lagoon: "Ghost to Me"
Oh, man, the holes within, the hauntings these kids, these families, must bear. Trevor Powers makes pain the stuff of dreams, the kind of enchanting dreams that seem to meld safety with dangerous experience and rushes of emotion. Kind of a perfect song.
Dire Straits: "Brothers in Arms"
This is such a sorrowful love song, a gentle gathering that feels like a requiem for the lost ones in the novel, for its own Stolen Sister, and a benediction for all the friends. It summons an emotional place where I hope the novel, too, ends.
As part of the playlist, these tracks tend – not unlike a few turns in the novel – to shift the tone of the narrative. Still, these last two choices kept me company and influenced more than a few moves in the story that burrow deeper in a way that feels necessary to me.
If I went looking for one instrumental soundtrack, Joseph Strider's gorgeous album String Theory would fit the bill admirably. Strider is musical kin to the likes of Bruce Cockburn and Jimmy Page, but I don't think you could peg his style as anything but alternative, yet that's not right either: he's completely original – another reason I like to think his style fits the novel at hand.
And, holy crap, I have yet to make it through k.d. lang's version of Jane Silberry's heartbreaking "The Valley" without thinking of the Highway of Tears, the Stolen Sisters, and weeping uncontrollably.
Adrianne Harun and A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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