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May 29, 2014

Book Notes - Courtney Elizabeth Mauk "Orion's Daughters"

Orion's Daughters

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.

Courtney Elizabeth Mauk's second novel Orion's Daughters is a haunting and lyrically told book about friendship and the shadows the past hold over the present.

Booklist wrote of the book:

"Mauk’s second venture is a nuanced character study that draws the reader into its compelling, unique world."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In her own words, here is Courtney Elizabeth Mauk's Book Notes music playlist for her novel, Orion's Daughters:


An important part of my writing process involves lying on the couch with my eyes closed, listening to a song that defines a character or mood over and over again. I don't create a designated playlist, although that would be smart. Instead I dig each song up as I need it. I get into a certain space, and then I turn everything off and write in silence.

The narrator of Orion's Daughters is a woman named Carrie. Most of these songs belong to her. The book is set in Northeast Ohio, close to where I grew up. My attachment to that place is complex and everlasting, and although Carrie's story is in no way my own, the process of creating her, there, felt deeply personal.

A bit more context: Carrie grows up on a commune, Orion Community, in the Cuyahoga Valley, with Amelia, her almost-sister. As the only children on Orion, they come to rely heavily on each other, until they can't anymore. Decades later Amelia reaches out, starting an emotional chain reaction in Carrie.

"Diamonds and Rust" - Joan Baez
At one point, lyrics from "Diamonds and Rust" were going to be the book's epigraph, but they gave too much away. The song could have been written by Carrie about Amelia. The bond they share, while not romantic, is intense and fraught. They've been through too much, known each other too well, to not feel the pull of the other even years later.

"Diamonds and Rust" is also a song the girls would have heard growing up. Tammy, Orion's leader, is an aged hippie who loves folk music. Joan Baez cassettes would have been played often in the communal kitchen.

"Blowin' in the Wind" - Bob Dylan
This one's for Tammy and Glory, Carrie's mother. That innocent idealism. Tammy starts Orion because she believes a simple, sustainable existence—a purer way of life—will lead to enlightenment. Glory puts Tammy and her ideals on a pedestal, ignoring the cracks when they start to show. I'm fascinated by the failure of communes, how they so often go to hell when started with the best intentions.

"Bloodbuzz Ohio" - The National
"I was carried to Ohio in a swarm of bees." This line makes me think of a scene early on in Orion's Daughters, when Carrie finds herself driving on the highway going into the Cuyahoga Valley. From the backseat, her daughter, Maya, protests—they are going in the wrong direction, away from home. But Carrie is going toward her home. Only she can't remember where Orion was.

The irresistible draw toward home is a recurring theme in the book. Even when home means pain, even when it means destruction, the characters seek it. They can't escape that "bloodbuzz," and I feel it, too.

"Delicate" - Damien Rice
Oh, this song. My agony anthem. In my mid-twenties, unable to quit a relationship that was bad, bad news, I spent way too much time sitting on my bedroom floor, listening to "Delicate" on repeat. This is Carrie's song as she grapples with first love and its aftereffects (I could say a lot more here, but no spoilers).

"Mary" - Patty Griffin
I listened to "Mary" when I wanted to feel Carrie's love for Maya. She views Maya as her saving grace, motherhood as a form of redemption. She doesn't want to repeat the mistakes Glory made, and yet the lineage is there. It's inescapable.

"Down by the Water" - PJ Harvey
The other side of motherhood. In the original short story version of what would become Orion's Daughters, Amelia kills her daughter. That doesn't happen in the book. She doesn't even have a kid. But betrayal does happen. Betrayal of those most loved. Betrayal by those most trusted. If I had to summarize the book in one word, I think betrayal would be it, and so I guess you could call this its theme song.


Courtney Elizabeth Mauk and Orion's Daughters links:

the author's website

The Quivering Pen review

LitChat essay by the author
Miranda Beverly-Whitmore interview with the author
Superstition Review guest post by the author
TNBBC's The Next Best Book Blog 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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