April 11, 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.
Tova Mirvis's latest novel Visible City poignantly depicts both the intersecting lives of her characters as well as life in the city of New York.
The New York Times wrote of the book:
"Mirvis's meticulously choreographed novel surprises and moves us. She shows the city for what it is behind all its windows and walls: a vast constellation of those 'truthful moments' her heroine seeks, as numerous as the stars."
Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.
Visible City is set on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and follows three couples whose lives intersect in a neighborhood that is undergoing changes. The books is about watching people and hiding from your own life, about discontent and loneliness and longing, about the urge to make changes, and the fear of doing so. I decided to pick songs that convey my love of New York City, with its potential for both anonymity and intimacy, with its loneliness and its buzz of energy, with its people always passing by one another, sometimes interacting in unexpected ways.
Back to Manhattan/ Norah Jones
This song, soulful and evocative, captures for me that feeling of longing for a place. I started writing Visible City right after I moved from the Upper West Side of Manhattan to the suburbs Boston. I was inspired to write the book out of an immense feeling of homesickeness for the city where I felt most alive. For many years, I went back to the city every chance I could, wishing that I still lived here. And even when I couldn't be there physically, writing Visible City was my way of going back to Manhattan.
Possession/ Sarah McLachlan
This song has a loneliness to it that embodies the mood of the opening of Visible City, and my own mood, I suppose, as I wrote the book. Nina, a young mother, watches her neighbors from her windows. Lonely in her own life, she tries to lose herself in the lives of others. In the movie version that exists in my mind, this song plays as Nina watches an older couple night after night. Listen as the wind blows across the great divide/voices trapped in yearning from across the great divide/ voices trapped in yearning, memories trapped in time/ The night is my companion, and solitude my guide/ would I spend forever here and not be satisfied? There are certain songs I can listen to over and over and this of one of them.
Tom's Diner/ Suzanne Vega
The chance encounter with strangers; the glimpses we catch of other people; the ways small and large we see into other people's lives. This is the subject of Tom's Diner, the 1981 song by Vega, a West Sider. The songs tells a simple story – a small moment in a day, yet it captures the ubiquitous city experience of being immersed in our own lives while catching glimpses of other people. As the singer eats her breakfast, a couple kisses and she is "pretending not to see them." A moment later, she is the one "feeling someone watching me and so I raise my head" "There's a woman on the outside looking inside/Does she see me?" In the city, we are all constantly asking this question.
People Watching/Jack Johnson
What greater city pastime is there than watching people, the pleasure of which this sweet and upbeat song extols. "I'm just people watching/The other people watching me." Everywhere we go in the city, other people present, and yet as this simple, jaunty song points out, we are "as lonely as we wanted to be." (And it's fitting that this song was in the Curious George movie: In Visible City, parenting is a central dilemma for many of my character: young children who scream too loudly in cafes and who melt down in the public eye of the city, seemingly grown children who veer off their planned courses at the last moment and return home.)
Emma (a character whom Nina watches from her window) is a young woman who has moved back in with her parents, not sure what she wants to do with her life. In writing this character, I thought a lot about the harsh entry so many of us have to adulthood, with the painful recognition that the promises of childhood no longer apply. This song could have been written about Emma: "When she was just a girl/ She expected the world/But it flew away from her reach/ So she ran away in her sleep." One of my favorite scenes to write in Visible City was the night when Emma is unable to hold in her growing unhappiness and she runs from her apartment at night, through Riverside park. This song could have been playing in the background as she tries to flee her own decisions.
So Into You/Atlanta Rhythm Section
I love the sultry feel of this song – it captures the feeling of physical longing and unexpected attraction. For me, this song is what desire sounds like. Nina watches her neighbors but it's not enough to just watch. When she steps out of her window and meets Leon, the man whom she has been watching, she is surprised at the way she is drawn to him. First she fantasizes about him, then drawn closer still. As the two of them are pulled to one another, I imagine this song playing in the background.
Everybody Talks/ Neon Trees
This song buzzes with energy, like the feel of walking on the city on a nice day, when everyone is out and about, when the streets vibrate and hum. "Everybody talks, everybody talks." With everyone out in the open, are there any secrets anymore? We might crave privacy, but we also want to be seen.
Higher Love/James Vincent McMorrow
How much of what we desire actually exists in reality? A lot of Visible City is about the fantasies we concoct of other people. The kids in my novel have imaginary friends but so do the adults. In this soulful rendition of the Steve Winwood song, yearning resounds. All the characters in my novel fantasize about something more than they have but is this higher love real or just a dream that can't be reached?
Summer in the City/ Lovin' Spoonful
This song captures the energy of the city – those days when just to walk outside feel like a celebration. By the end of the novel, my characters are all forced from the hideouts inside their own lives, into interaction, into more dangerous but more alive states. I hope they hear this song in their minds.
New York State of Mind/ Billy Joel
And lastly, one more New York song that fills me with yearning for the city. In so many ways, Visible City is my love letter to this place that became my home and which I will always miss. However long I live away, I will always think of this as my home. Like so many New Yorkers who live far away, I carry with me my own version of the city I love.
Tova Mirvis and Visible City links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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