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November 11, 2014

Book Notes - Forrest Gander "The Trace"

The Trace

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, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Forrest Gander's The Trace is an eloquent and poignant novel of loss and love.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"As in his previous works, Gander shows he is keenly aware of the loneliness that imbues human suffering and sets grief alight using beautiful, tense, haunting prose."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.


In his own words, here is Forrest Gander's Book Notes music playlist for his novel The Trace:


In the novel The Trace, a stressed couple in an overheating car journey through the Chihuahua Desert of Texas and Mexico, searching for the last traces of Civil War writer Ambrose Bierce. Stuck in the car (until it breaks down in the middle of nowhere), they keep themselves awake talking and listening to music from an iPhone plugged into the car’s USB port. In early drafts, there were more references to music, but I groomed many away as I edited. Nevertheless, music adds to the emotional texture all through the novel. I think of a character in Wim Wenders’ film Kings of the Road who realizes, as he’s arguing with his wife, that there’s a song playing in the back of his brain and that all his experiences have been colonized by American music. My own soundtracks tend to be more international.

Ki-Oku by DJ Krush. Before they cross into Mexico, Dale leaves Hoa sleeping in a hotel in Marfa and goes for a morning run. As he paces himself along the railroad tracks heading out of town, he’s listening to the moody soundscapes of Japanese DJ Krush on this album infused with the oneiric, breathy improvisations of avant trumpeter Toshinori Kondo.

So Few Things by Brady Earnhart. Bored with the desert scenery, Hoa asks Dale to tell her a story she’s never heard before. He launches into an adventure that involves two close friends and an overdose of hallucinogens, but it begins with one of the friends, Brady Earnhart, playing a song about the Civil War and Walt Whitman called “As You Were.”

Live Rust by Neil Young. On that same Night of the Hallucinogens mentioned above, the friends go to see Neil Young in concert. It’s the Rust Never Sleeps tour and a skinny Young dances onto the stage with huge industrial fans behind him blowing the music all over the audience. Kristin Hersh does a killer slow version of the song on Cinnamon Girl: Women Artists Cover Neil Young.

Paleoacoustics. At La Hacienda de los Muertos, ruins of an old mining town in the Chihuahua Desert, Hoa, a ceramic artist, listens for ancient sounds in the stone and clay walls. She remembers a theory proposed by an archeologist— that sounds might be captured, forever diminishing but never gone, as vibrations in materials. Two thousand years ago, when a woman turning wet clay to make a vase, for instance, scored the vase with the edge of a cockle shell, she created a groove that might have captured ambient sound— just as with a wax record recording. The paleoacoustic theory proposes that with advanced lasers, we might play those grooves and reveal the sounds of children laughing, dogs barking, the potter singing two millennium ago. There’s an imagined film and score of paleoacoustics at http://vimeo.com/forrestgander/paleoacoustics.

Sus Grandes Corridos by Lucha Villa. Under a tinny speaker in a one-room barbecoa in the tiny mountain town of Sierra Mojada, Dale and Hoa eat dinner, listening to a toad croaking along to a tortured and magnificent corrido sung by Lucha Villa, “Valente Quintero.” Quintero, the subject of many Mexican poems and ballads, fought in the Mexican Revolution and famously lost his life, even as he shot dead the other man, in a duel.

Cat ’N’ Mouse by John Abercrombie. Lost in the desert and needing to pee, Dale and Hoa stop the car, open the doors, and step out of the air conditioning into hundred degree bake. Dale leaves the door open, mesmerized by the brutal, inhuman landscape all around him, considering what a strange thing it is for the door-mounted speaker to be projecting Abercrombie’s sophisticated and ghostly “Show of Hands” into the blasted volcanic crumble.

The Bootleg Series, Vol. 8 by Bob Dylan. Specifically, I’m thinking of “Huck’s Tune” about a man wandering “alone through a desert of stone” for reasons you might guess well enough. But no plot spoilers here.


Forrest Gander and The Trace links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry
excerpt from the book
video trailer for the book

New Yorker review
Publishers Weekly review
Vol. 1 Brooklyn review

PEN America 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

List of Online "Best of 2014" Book Lists

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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