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September 2, 2014

Book Notes - Mary Gordon "The Liar's Wife"

The Liar's Wife

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.

Mary Gordon's The Liar's Wife is a collection of four novellas filled with exquisitely drawn characters.

The New York Times wrote of the book:

"The intelligence that breathes through the characters tirelessly raises the unanswerable questions that animate all great fiction, lifting the reader out of the story and into the realm of ethical dilemma and moral agony."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In her own words, here is Mary Gordon's Book Notes music playlist for her book The Liar's Wife:


Songs have always been important in my work; I believe that some of our deepest and paradoxically most accessible feelings come to us through songs. Someone once said to me that my best conversations with my mother were sung. Songs figure importantly in The Liar's Wife. In the Title novella, the character, Johnny, is a singer, and brings joy and hope to people through his songs. In "Simone Weil in New York," the characters watch Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times and are moved by the rendition of "Smile, though your heart is aching." In "Thomas Mann in Gary, Indiana," the narrator Billy agonizes about what song to sing to the girl he loves so that she will understand his real feelings. And in "Fine Arts," the impoverishment of the lead character Theresa's life is reflected in the fact that she knows hardly any songs and the invitation to sing becomes an embarrassment. I know the words to every song from every musical comedy produced 1925-1975. Then, I drop off the charts. My one foray into vocal performance was a disaster when in 1962, I tried to sing "I Feel Pretty" at a parish picnic and no one listened, no one heard, they were concerned with passing the food. I make up songs for my children, grandchildren and dogs. In my high school, I was famous for writing the best songs for candidates in student council elections. So there might be some hope for me, combining my love of writing and my love of songs.

Here's the Playlist:

"Will Ye Go Lassie Go," The Clancy Brothers
This is the character, Johnny's signature song in The Liar's Wife.

"Jackson," Johnny Cash and June Carter
Again, in The Liar's Wife, my characters Johnny and Linnet sing this duet

"I am A Maid of Constant Sorrow," Joan Baez
In The Liar's Wife, Linnet shows a surprisingly lyrical side singing this.

"Stand By Your Man," Tammy Wynette
Linnet belts this one.

"Smile, Though your Heart is Aching"
These words were actually written by Chaplin for Modern Times. A beautiful rendition by Nat King Cole, or the music without words on the track of the film, which my characters see in "Simone Weil in New York."

"Moonlight Serenade," Frank Sinatra
Billy never gets to sing t his to his girl, but he dreams of it in "Thomas Mann in Gary, Indiana."

"Change Partners," Fred Astaire
Billy rejects this as too unsubtle a message for his girlfriend who loves another in "Thomas Mann in Gary, Indiana."

"Puff the Magic Dragon," Peter Paul and Mary
The cause of Theresa's mortification in "Fine Arts."


Mary Gordon and The Liar's Wife links:

Boston Globe review
Kirkus review
Minneapolis Star Tribune review
New York Times review
Richmond Times-Dispatch review
Washington Post review

America interview with the author
The Leonard Lopate Show interview with 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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