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April 14, 2014

Book Notes - Isla Morley "Above"


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.

Isla Morley's Above is a riveting and dark novel of abduction and captivation, resilience and hope.

The Boston Globe wrote of the book:

"A compelling tale of survival, reinvention, and hope. . . . Vivid and poignant."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In her own words, here is Isla Morley's Book Notes music playlist for her novel, Above:

Blythe Hallowell is snatched by a survivalist who is convinced the world is about to end. One moment she is walking home from the Horse Thieves Picnic, the music from the bandstand still trailing in the lazy June evening; the next, she's hundreds of feet below ground in a WWII-era missile silo, having her ears cave in from the silence. Extreme prepper Dobbs Hordin has stocked the silo with seed catalogs, DNA samples, documents of historical importance, an arsenal and now a woman of sound womb. One thing not included in his stockpiles is music. Isolated from the outside world for years, Blythe will have to contend with her captor's madness, the temptation to give up, and the challenge of caring for an innocent child. Few things can dispel the frightful silence of a sterile missile chamber, even fewer can connect her to the world above. Songs. The prisoner must somehow sing.

The playlist for Above assembles the tender themes of longing, remembering and promise.

"Poor Boy's Delight" by The Infamous Stringdusters
Not quite seventeen year old Blythe is kissed for the first time at her small town's annual festival. This simple bluegrass tune evokes the innocence of young love (Would you dance with me, Molly?/Ain't I doing this right/You're fine and you're fair/A poor boy's delight) and the haunting moment before it is so brutally taken away by one who lies in wait. The devil would die if you danced one with me.

"Eve of Destruction" by Barry McGuire
The anger and desperation of a man demented by his visions of an imminent apocalypse are rolled up into this anthem. Disdainful of the hoarse doomsday prophets on the street corners and the protest singers plucking at guitar strings, Dobbs Hordin takes matters into his own hands.

Don't you understand what I'm trying to say?
Can't you feel the fears I'm feeling today?
If the button is pushed there's no running away
There'll be no one to save with the world in a grave.

"I Can't Wait"
Blythe knows all the flavors of waiting—patient-waiting, pleading-waiting, bone-gnawing waiting. She waits for her rescuers to come (they don't), for her kidnapper to repent (he doesn't), for the angels to carry her away (they don't). Keeping her alive is only one kind of waiting: the hoping kind.

Some day we'll roll away the stone that we've carried for so long
All our burdens will be gone, and I can't wait
We will find our way to an understanding of all views
No prayer shall be refused, I can't wait.

"Further and Further Away" by Cheryl Wheeler
Without days and nights, Blythe measures the passing of time by how dim her memories become. Still, she cannot keep reliving them—memories can lift a captive up and out of her cell, but it's a long fall back down again.

Then I shake my head, clearing my vision
I keep those scenes at bay
And I can see the place where I came from
Slipping further and further away.

"Lay Your Head Down" by Sinead O'Connor
For a boy who cannot see the moon and stars, who may never see the moon and stars, Blythe transforms her dungeon into a magical land using tinfoil, tales and lullabies. The tender notes of this song accompany the brushing of a loving hand across a boy's brow. There can't be many jobs more important than helping your child make peace with the darkness each night.

"Fields of Gold" by Eva Cassidy
There comes a time when all a mother has left to give her boy are promises. "I promise in the days we still have left/we will walk in fields of gold." Blythe's promises all begin the same way, with "One day…" She is no different from any other parent in that she will make promises she can't always keep. And yet we have to keep making them, knowing our children one day will grow tired of them and demand, "Now!"

"Tea and Sympathy" by Janis Ian
Ill-prepared to raise a child in confinement, Blythe forsakes reality and instead spins gossamer dreams, dreams she has been robbed of. Is there a time when life is no worth longer living? When I have no dreams to give you anymore is the lyricist's answer.

"Hard Times (Come Again No More)" by Mare Winningham
It's been years since I came across this song in the movie, Georgia. At different times, it's been for me a kind of chant, a voodoo spell against the bad spirits, and a prayer. Depending on Blythe's will, it is sometimes a plaintive plea and other times a declaration.

"The Great Storm Is Over" by Bob Morley
John McCutcheon wrote and recorded this song, but my husband's version is the one that makes a believer out of me. I made him sing it at his retirement bash, when the last round of edits of the book were done and when we recently celebrated Above's launch with family and friends. Love conquers the powers of hell, hear that Dobbs Hordin?

"I'll Take Care of You" by Beth Hart & Joe Bonamassa
There is a certain care that only those who've suffered can administer to the battered. In the beginning of this song, help is offered, but at the end help it is insisted upon. "I just got to take care of you!" is said by someone who knows helping is also penance. Two hurts healed.

"Somewhere Over the Rainbow" by Judy Garland
A girl spends half her life dreaming about a place where everything is in Technicolor. What happens when sepia seeps through?

"Glory Bound" by the Wailin' Jennys (the live version)
This has been my favorite song for three or four years. I've listened to it a hundred times, and I could listen to it a thousand more and it will not wear thin. When I first heard it, I was almost finished writing Above. This song took me right into the final scene of the story, and it epitomizes the triumph of the human spirit that I hope is depicted in Above.

So I'm waiting for that train to come
And I know where she's coming from
Listen can you hear on the track
When I board I won't be looking back.

Isla Morley and Above links:

the author's website
excerpt from the audiobook

Bustle review
New York Journal of Books review
Publishers Weekly review

The Leonard Lopate Show interview with the author
My Book, the Movie guest post by 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
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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