March 6, 2015
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.
Lynn Sloan's novel Principles of Navigation is an engaging debut about a troubled marriage and small town life.
Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.
I am not one of those lucky, lyrically inclined writers who can listen to music when they write. How fine it must be to choose music whose rhythms and mood will lift you up, carry you along, and infuse the sentences you write. When I write, I go deaf. My ears close like an otter diving underwater. Sirens from the fire station down the block, the phone's ring, my husband asking me a question, Beethoven's Ninth, are no more than faint murmurs that I ignore. When I'm inside the world I'm creating, I hear only what's in that place and that time.
In my novel, Principles of Navigation, that place is mostly small town Indiana, the time is 1998. Alice Becotte, the lone reporter for the struggling local newspaper, wants desperately to have a child. Her husband, Rolly, a sculptor, working as an art professor at a backwater college, wants time for his art. They love each other, but when Alice becomes pregnant, Rolly feels backed into a corner. The contemporary conflict between the need for connection and the need for autonomy, between married love and romantic affairs, between the satisfactions of work and the complications of family cracks open their marriage and set the two of them on complicated journeys. Right from the beginning, the differences in their musical tastes might have forecast the deeper divisions between them.
Alice likes the hard-driving rhythms and the upbeat melodies of country music. What annoys her are lyrics about "he done me wrong" or "she stomped my heart," the kind of songs that dominate the airwaves in Indiana. Alice has to flip through the channels to find songs that don't drive her crazy. She can sing along going sixty-five miles an hour on a country road without actually listening to her karaoke act. Once she caught herself singing "Mama's in the graveyard/ Papa's in the pen" before she realized it. After that, she'd had it with Garth Brooks. She likes upbeat rock, like John Mellencamp, Indiana native, his voice, his appreciation of women, his album Dance Naked, and especially its lead song, "Dance Naked." She wants to be wanted like that. Her mother, Patricia, gave her a CD called A Woman's Heart, with six Irish women singers, "crooners," Rolly calls them disparagingly. Alice likes every song on the album, especially Mary Black's "Vanities," which reminds her of Rolly's devotion to his work, all vanities, as far as she can see, "counterfeit mostly," in the song's words, but she doesn't say this.
But it is Bonnie Raitt's "Nick of Time" that is Alice's song. "A friend of mine, she cries at night/And she calls me on the phone/Sees babies everywhere she goes/And she wants one of her own/ She's waited long enough she says/And still he can't decide…
Rolly can't decide because he fears a child will tug him away from his work. His work as an artist is the center of his life. Rolly likes hard-driving music, too, like Alice, but he doesn't like music with words, or rather, he doesn't like music with a narrative. He grew up in Detroit listening to Detroit techno. The singles he bought as a teenager in the eighties he still plays, worn out discs like X-Ray's "Let's Go" and Juan Atkins' "Techno City." The rough edges, the change-up rhythms, the urgency call to him. When he was a kid he wanted to be a DJ—it was the kinesthesia of spinning the disc, the hand on vinyl that made him feel as if the notes were moving through his skin—but he as soon as he picked up a chunk of fine-grained wood, he knew he wanted to carve. Sculpture is his calling. Music that isolates him from the rest of the world is what he listens to when he's working in his studio. Kruder & Dorfmeister's "Deep Shit Pt. 1 and Pt. 2" with the powerful bass, its body-moving rhythms, and modal harmonies he's listened to until there are no surprises left. For this reason, he bought "The K&D Sessions," which he especially likes because the sampled natural sounds, wind and water, the scattering stones, the echoes, seem especially conducive to what he's trying to achieve with his canoe-like sculptures.
Once Alice and Rolly would turn the lights low and slow dance to Elvis Costello's "All this Useless Beauty." During the course of the novel, as they struggle to figure out what they most want, both of them separately, late at night, turn to Bach's Cello Suites, whose plangent chords give voice to their deepest, unutterable yearnings.
Lynn Sloan and Principles of Navigation links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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