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November 17, 2014

Book Notes - MB Caschetta "Miracle Girls"

Miracle Girls

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.

MB Caschetta's Miracle Girls is a stunning debut novel about an unforgettable dysfunctional family and faith.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

"In upstate New York, young girls go missing, nuns are revolting, Nixon is resigning, and young Cee-Cee Bianco has visions of the Virgin Mary in this polished debut novel....Short story writer (Lucy on the West Coast, 1996) Caschetta's first novel is filled with a kind of dark poetry and the menace of ordinary evils."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In her own words, here is MB Caschetta's Book Notes music playlist for her novel Miracle Girls:

What I forget about myself with music is that I have an endless capacity to become hopelessly absorbed in it. You might say this fun task has found me a little obsessed with creating the perfect musical mood to represent my novel, not just song-by-song, but as an overarching enterprise. It's actually been a bit like writing the novel, come to think of it, which is to say: pacing, pacing, pacing with a few surprising rhythmical moments tossed for your listening (reading) pleasure. It's been a bit of a cozy cocoon, and I'm happy to have been asked to participate on this cool website. I do believe I've struck just the right gritty (yet boppy) musical experience to mirror Miracle Girls.

"Nothing's Wrong" by Echosmith
Ecosmith's "Nothing's Wrong" is a rousing prelude for Miracle Girls. It's anthem-like overtones and catchy disaffected chant of the young captures childhood as it plays out in the novel:

We walk like there's nothing wrong!
We walk, we walk; we just keep walking.
We move, we move; we just keep moving on.
We sing, we sing; we sing at the top of our lungs.
We walk, we walk; we walk like nothing's wrong.
We walk like there's nothing wrong!

The children in the novel (as in life) have little control over their fate. This holds true for the four Bianco children, the mangled teenaged saints from Cee-Cee's vision, the myriad missing girls, and of course the mysterious members of Mother Stephen's Orphan Peace Army for Girls.

"Gimme Shelter" by Merry Clayton
Merry Clayton's cover of Jagger's "Gimme Shelter" is the quintessential Vietnam, anti-war, protest song, which is a pivotal theme in Miracle Girls. Clayton's version is so vocally pure, so preacher-like (nearly feminist, you could say) that it perfectly evokes the early 70s political climate in which the novel takes place. This is the last gasp of innocence before Watergate corruption breaks and kidnapped Patty Hearst shows up on behalf of her captors carrying a gun and spouting radical slogans to shock a nation. Anyway, you really need to hear Clayton's crystalline voice on this track: "Rape, murder, children, it's just a shot away…it's just a kiss away." You won't soon forget it.

"Calling All Angels" by Train
So there's religion in this novel…no two ways about it. Spiritual matters hadn't been my plan at the outset of writing Miracle Girls, but as any novelist knows, at some point, the novel becomes its own thing. I think of Train's "Calling All Angels" as pretty timeless, a kind of ancient yet modern spiritual cry to the heavens, which may also describe my novel's purpose too. Relevant to Miracle Girls is this line in particular: "Children have to play inside so they don't disappear…in a world where what we want is only what we want until it's ours."

"Change Your Life" by Iggy Azalea (with T.I.)
Have you seen this fly hip-hop artist's long blonde hair and creamy skin? Talk about turning a genre on its head. Iggy Azalea calls herself "the new classic" because she is a white Australian girl who raps like a mo'-fo', I personally love her before she even opens her fresh, dirty mouth. (By the way, I think the explicit version is better.) I put this song in for the protagonist Cee-Cee's best friend, Mary Margaret. This main friendship dyad is also echoed in Amanda and her "inseparable" from childhood, little one-armed Carolyn Hayes. It is doubly echoed in the two Mirandas who show up with a "gun" near the end of the novel.

"Lady Madonna" by Richie Havens
Richie Havens' bongo-style, staccato cover of this Lennon/McCartney original is as offbeat as it is awesome. I listened to my older brothers' Beatles albums pretty obsessively as a kid, and this track, which first appeared on the compilation, Hey Jude!, was a favorite. The song is about a single mother who can't quite make ends meet, while the title ironically refers to the actual Madonna, who makes a brief appearance in Miracle Girls. Wait for the weird non-rhythmical clapping toward the end of Havens' interpretation: it's a nice unexpected twist.

"Come As You Are" by Nirvana
What is desperate Mr. Kurt Cobain doing in my playlist? Actually, I have great respect for the ability of this insanely talented grunge band to make atonal melodies out of internal chaos. The interesting lyrical confusion, including repetition of the word "memory," points to the protagonist Cee-Cee's dilemma, which is in part that her memory is a broken glass. The lyric "And I swear that I don't have a gun. No, I don't have a gun," (also repeated) is relevant. Cee-Cee's shadow self, Eileena Brice Iaccamo, points a loaded rifle at her father's face before she disappears; the Miranda's shoot a toy gun at a cop before squealing off shouting the motto of the Symbionese Liberation Army (Google for context); and Vinnie the Cop fires a round of bullets into the sky over a school parking lot populated with nuns and children.

"The Black Keys'" by Lonely Boy
There are actually many lonely boys in Miracle Girl. This bluesy rock tune, though, is for Roadie, Cee-Cee's middle brother, who in essence makes up the backbone of the novel. His plight as regretful, heartbroken, and gay is the driving bass line of the book. The chorus resonates for him: "I've got a love that keeps me waiting. I've got a love that keeps me waiting. I'm a lonely boy." His personal redemption and ultimate his divinely bestowed blessing (via Cee-Cee) comprise my literary attempt to offer an alternate view of spirituality and homosexuality.

"Life Support" by Sam Smith
Sam Smith has the most heartbreaking voice, whether in his low or in his irrepressibly high register. You can practically hear the tears and longing in the breath between his words. "Life Support" is definitely for Cee-Cee's "twin" brother, Baby Pauly, who is the direct recipient of the novel's most overt miracle. Unfortunately, the miracle has left him in limbo for the majority of the novel, literally connected to machines. Metaphorically, though, Cee-Cee is Baby Pauly's life support, and vice versa.

"Knockin' on Heaven's Door" by Avril Lavigne
I chose Avril Lavigne's cover of this classic Dylan song because Miracle Girls is a serious political novel about a 10-year-old girl. I really groove on the sound of Lavigne's young female voice singing as folk song's dying male narrator: "Mama, put my guns in the ground, I can't shoot them anymore. That long black cloud is comin' down. I feel I'm knockin' on heaven's door." Why war politics through little girls? Because we will never be free, never be truly at peace, until we treat our vulnerable daughters with respect and dignity. A single rape of a single girl is on the same scale of violence as is a world war.

"Pumpin' Blood" by NoNoNo
The goofy whistling in NoNoNo's Pumpin' Blood reverberates in the alternative perspective and offbeat humor you will find in Miracle Girls. The characters all struggle with how slim the difference between being alive and being dead truly seems to be sometimes. The lyric: "It's your heart, it's alive, it's pumpin' blood" reminds me of one of Cee-Cee's main epiphanies: "Hearing the lonely sound of her own footsteps on the pavement, Cee-Cee realizes for the first time since coming out of the woods that she is still alive."

"Lifted" by Naughty Boy
This gospel-tinged revelation of a song reflects the novel's ultimate uplifting conclusion and independent stance. "I'm not afraid, and I'm not alone. Even if I'm dancing on my own, I'll be lifted, lifted, lifted." Listen to that and try not to dance!

"Here Comes the Sun" by Nina Simone
Only Nina Simone can accurately capture how unendurably sad and yet absolutely necessary is the phenomenon of human hope. She seems to be saying that every sunrise is an absolute triumph and an utter defeat. George Harrison, who originally wrote the song, was a pretty spiritual dude, himself, and so it seems fitting to end my playlist here. By the lyric "Here comes the sun, little darling, here comes the sun, and I say it's all right" I think Harrison actually meant that it is actually all right—whatever it is. You've got to embrace both joy and sorrow to be fully human and fully alive. Simone adds a soulful jazz dimension to this essential truth. I hope you hear this song playing when you get to the final two pages of Miracle Girls.

MB Caschettat and Miracle Girls links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry
excerpt from the book

Kirkus review
LitReactor review

Huffington Post interview with the author
Lambda Literary 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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