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April 16, 2015

Book Notes - Marian Palaia "The Given World"

The Given World

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, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Marian Palaia's The Given World is a remarkable debut novel spanning two decades and two continents.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

"Palaia demonstrates a magnificent command of craft for a first-time novelist, but it's her emotional honesty that makes this story so rich and affecting....An immensely rewarding and remarkable debut."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.


In her own words, here is Marian Palaia's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel The Given World:


So. A soundtrack for The Given World. At least twelve times a day I hear a song on the radio I think would be perfect for one chapter of Riley's life or another. Some of these are love songs, straight up; others are still love songs, but ironically so, because so much of love is irony, at least for Riley. Love, friendship, attachment, loss, longing. These are songs that speak to me, and since Riley is so much a part of me, or I so much a part of her, they are for that girl, and her wild, wild life.

Little Feat – "It's So Easy to Slip"

It's so easy to slip
It's so easy to fall
Let your memory drift and do nothing at all
Well, the love that you missed, and the people that you can't recall
Do they really exist at all?

This applies to so much of the book, so much of life. Because it is so easy to slip. If only it were so easy to forgive, ourselves and each other, for doing it.

Gnarls Barkley – "Crazy"

I remember when, I remember, I remember when I lost my mind
There was something so pleasant about that place.
Even your emotions had an echo
In so much space

And when you're out there
Without care
Yeah, I was out of touch
But it wasn't because I didn't know enough
I just knew too much

Does that make me crazy?
Does that make me crazy?
Does that make me crazy?
Possibly.

Because she always felt a little crazy, and it probably was from knowing too much, or maybe it was from not wanting to know.

Harry Nilsson – "Everybody's Talking at Me"

Banking off of the northeast wind
Sailing on a summer breeze
Skipping over the ocean, like a stone

This has always been my escape song, and I imagine it would have been hers too.

Eagles – "Ol' 55"

And now the sun's comin' up, I'm ridin' with Lady Luck

Freeway cars and trucks

Stars beginning to fade and I lead the parade

Just a-wishin' I'd stayed a little longer

This one I always hear in my head when Riley's driving over the mountains with the top down. It's a song I probably heard 300 times in my own Mustang with the top down. Maybe 500 times. Maybe more.

Taj Mahal – "Take a Giant Step"

Though you failed at love and lost
and sorrow's turned your heart to frost
I will mend your heart again
Remember the feeling as a child
when you woke up and morning smiled?
It's time, it's time, it's time you felt like that again

I imagine Frank playing this for Riley, and her just looking up at him from where she's sitting on the floor with his dog, and her expression says, "Oh, yeah. Wouldn't that be nice? Thank you, but dream on." I love the song, though. It does make me happy.

Graham Parker – "Heat Treatment"

Well out in the jungle there's a war going down

You wind up eating all the friends you've found

But you know and I know and it's understood

Let's get out while the getting's good

Heat treatment baby sweet treatment baby

Heat treatment while the flame is burning

Heat treatment baby sweet treatment baby

Heat treatment while the world is turning 
around round around round around yeah

For Lu. For reasons that should, or will, be obvious.

Rickie Lee Jones – "Last Chance Texaco"

Long stretch of headlights that bend into I-9

They tiptoe into truck stops, sleepy diesel eyes
Volcanoes that rumble in the taxi and glow in the dark
Camels in the driver's seat, a slow easy mark
But you ran out of gas down the road a piece
and then the battery went dead
and the cables don't reach


RLJ is one of the world's great lyricists, and I love that she doesn't mind making you work to understand her. And she has so much soul. She's one of Riley's touchstones, in a way, because it is so easy to imagine a similarity to their lives, or at least to whatever esthetic they live by.

Isley Brothers – "Shout"

Shout, shout, shout, shout (Oh-whoa-yeah)
Shout, shout, shout, shout (Oh yeah)
Shout, shout, shout, shout
Everybody shout now (Ooh)


Speaking of soul. This is one of the songs Riley's brother Mick plays for the girls who come to the house to visit. And Riley has to listen from out in the hall. But sometimes, when there are no girls, she gets to come in and listen. And she and Mick dance.

Buddy Holly – "Rave On"

He-he-hey the little things you say and do
Make me want to be with you
Rave on it's a crazy feeling and
I know it's got me reeling
When you say, "I love you" rave on.

Another Mick and his girls/Mick and Riley song. A few years after Mick goes missing, Riley has her boyfriend tattoo the song title on her shoulder, under the initial "M."

Talking Heads – "Heaven"

When this kiss is over, it will start again

It will not be any different, it will be exactly the same

It's hard to imagine that nothing at all

Could be so exciting, could be this much fun


Heaven is a place, a place where nothing, nothing ever happens

Heaven, Heaven is a place, a place where nothing, nothing ever happens

I think this place is where Riley wants to go, but she keeps taking wrong turns. I spent a whole book trying to get her there. I hope, I think—I think I hope—I succeeded.

Jeff Buckley, Jevetta Steel – "I'm Calling You"

A desert road from Vegas to nowhere,

some place better than where you've been.
A coffee machine that needs some fixing

in a little café just around the bend.


A hot dry wind blows right through me.

The baby's crying and I can't sleep

and I can feel a change is coming,

coming closer sweet release.

This one (the Jevetta Steel version) was on the Baghdad Café soundtrack. I think it's perfect as well for Riley, when she's lying out there in the wheat fields, high, knowing she has to leave, and that she'll never be able to tell anyone—never be able to articulate—why.

Talking Heads – "Wild, Wild Life"

Sleeping on the interstate

Whoa ho ah

Getting wild, wild life

Checkin' in, a checkin' out!

Uh, huh!

I got a wild, wild life

Spending all of my money and time

Oh, ho ho

Done too much wild, wild

We want to go, where we go, where we go

Oh, ho ho!

Doing wild, wild life
I know it, that's how we start

Uh, huh

Got some wild, wild life

Take a picture, here in the daylight

Oh, ho!

They got some wild, wild life

You've grown so tall, you've grown so fast

Oh, ho ho

Wild, wild

I know that's the way you like it

Oh, ho!

Living wild wild wild wild, life.

I can hear this playing in the background when she cuts the Cajun and calls 911. I can hear it playing as the cops take her away.

Kings of Leon – "Dreaming on the Last Mile Home"

Tell me that the bar is drinking

And the lights are swinging in the smoke

I'm a fool for conversation

And I've got nowhere to go

Baby I'm the one who's broken

Maybe I'm the breaker of the hearts

Been so long since we've last spoken

It's been lonely baby it's been hard

Amos Lee – "Windows Are Rolled Down"

Look up, child

The world is born

Shoe's untied

And your soles are worn

Windows are rolled down

Sun is setting high

Windows are rolled down

I'm fixing to die

Something about the music of both these bands/artists (Kings of Leon and Amos Lee) makes me want to get in a car and drive across a desert somewhere on a really hot night. If anyone else knows that feeling, it's Riley. And she's not fixing to die. She never was. That's just the way the lyrics go.

Steve Miller Band – "Your Saving Grace"

Rise up with the new dawn's early morning
Feel the sunshine warm upon your face
Tomorrow's come a long, long way to help you
Yes, it's your saving grace

Because that line: "Tomorrow's come a long, long way to help you" is one of my all-time favorite lines from any song, ever. (I know that's a little redundant.) And because, to me, that's what the book is all about. Riley's saving grace. Everyone's saving grace. Mine. Yours. Finding it. Whatever, or whoever, it happens to be.


Marian Palaia and The Given World links:

the author's website
video trailer for the book

Billings Gazette review
Kirkus review
San Francisco Chronicle review

Bloom interview with the author
Publishers Weekly interview with the author
The Quivering Pen essay by the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (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
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
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
Word Bookstores Books of the Week (weekly new book highlights)


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