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April 13, 2015

Book Notes - Sarah Layden "Trip Through Your Wires"

Trip Through Your Wires

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.

Sarah Layden's debut novel Trip Through Your Wires is a powerful and haunting examination of memory and loss.

PANK wrote of the book:

"Layden intricately traces the maze of human memory, full of twists and dead ends. She shows how the past controls us, even when it’s misremembered or misinterpreted.""

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.


In her own words, here is Sarah Layden's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel Trip Through Your Wires:


Trip Through Your Wires


I've been reading this feature on Largehearted Boy for years, and have always loved and appreciated how often books and music come together – either in the making of the book or as part of the story. Here, I offer songs that play a role in Trip Through Your Wires, either from the characters' perspectives, my own, or both. U2 fans will recognize the title from the band's Joshua Tree album, though the novel isn't about that. It's a story about all-encompassing grief. It's about how we come to terms with faulty memory and live with our pasts. And it's about Carey Halpern's attempt to deal with the murder of her boyfriend Ben in mid-1990s Mexico, and what happens seven years later when there's finally a break in the murder case.

"Hey" - The Pixies

The title of the song is also the opening lyric: "Hey! Been trying to meet you." The slow bass line meanders like a question. Not unlike Carey Halpern traveling to Mexico because the secret object of her affection, Ben Williamson, would be there. Stalking seemed like too dire a thing to call it, from her perspective. I like the exclamation and uncertainty of the line. So many songs by The Pixies have elements of both. They were and are a musical fixture for me; I saw them play in 1992, opening for U2 in Chicago, and again in 2005, on their reunion tour in Indianapolis.

"Drain You" – Nirvana

One of Carey's early encounters with Ben is seeing him buy the Nirvana album Nevermind in an Indianapolis record store. She buys it, too, even though she doesn't know the band or care for its music. (Unlike me: I happen to love Nirvana.) Kurt Cobain's death in 1994 is a touchstone for many thirtysomethings and fortysomethings, just as Ben's death is for Carey.

"Hello, I Love You" - The Doors
"American Woman" - The Guess Who

Funny thing about the current fond interest in the 1990s: back then, our nostalgia was for the ‘60s. Maybe nostalgia is the wrong word, since teenagers were discovering the music and culture of that time through parents or relatives, and hadn't lived it. In high school, I had a mural-sized poster of the crowd at Woodstock on my bedroom wall. I spent hours staring at those faces, wondering who those people were and what lives they lived. In the novel, Ben Williamson has a commitment to ‘60s-style social justice, and the music of the time captivates him, and Carey by proxy. Ben uses the line in The Doors song – the one about the woman whose arms are wicked and legs are long – to flatter Carey. Probably not too much of a spoiler to share: it works.

"No Podrás"- Cristian Castro

Sung in Spanish, in this song Cristian references "tripping through heartbreak," to loosely translate. It's interesting how many of our metaphors for love evoke falling, tripping, breaking.

When I studied in Mexico in 1992, this song had just been released and was hugely popular, and the young singer was revered. The students in my program all learned the lyrics and performed it for our host families at the end of our stay. I still know most of the lyrics, though my current efforts at translation are rusty. My characters would do a much better job, fluent as they are.

"To Bring You My Love" - PJ Harvey

This song is ominous, sexy, foreboding, rough. The narrator seems very interested in cataloging how difficult it was to bring her love to you. One suspects the unnamed "you" ought to show more appreciation.

"Release Me" - Pearl Jam

The plaintive repetition of this song's title is at once pleasure and pain – wanting closeness, wanting release. Back in high school and college, this album played on a constant loop in cars, living rooms, dorms. I've never owned the actual CD, because my roommates, sister, and later my husband already had a copy – sometimes more than one. Ben buys Pearl Jam and PJ Harvey CDs for Carey, but never has a chance to give them to her.

"Carey" - Joni Mitchell

As an MFA student, I commuted an hour-plus from Indianapolis to Purdue in West Lafayette. I often shared the road with Carey chauffeur services, which has a bus fleet with the name in big block letters. There was a day – very early into the novel – when I heard the Joni Mitchell song and saw the black bus and thought: Oh, so that's what her name will be. Carey's parents spell her name this way because of this song, even though that particular Carey is a man.

"What Sarah Said" - Death Cab for Cutie

Trip Through Your Wires has two epigraphs: a quote from Don Quixote, and this Death Cab for Cutie song lyric: "It stung like a violent wind/that our memories depend/on a faulty camera in our minds." Ain't that the truth.

"Let Down" – Radiohead

I listened to this song faithfully for a number of years, including the time I spent writing Trip Through Your Wires. I think it was Dave Eggers who once wrote about repetitious listening as an attempt at trying to "solve" a song. It was either Eggers or Nick Hornby, or Eggers relaying a conversation he had with Hornby. Anyway. That's how I feel about this track on OK Computer. It has layers that require repeated listening; I'm always hearing new things. My favorite books are multilayered with meaning, and I want to be able to write that way, too.

"Trip Through Your Wires" - U2

Until the novel was accepted for publication, the title was Sleeping Woman. That worked well with the earlier drafts, but not so much the later ones. I tried out a half-dozen titles, none of which fit. One afternoon, I was in a meeting about teaching millennial students, who were described as being the most wired generation. Something about that hit me, and I scrawled some notes. One of those was the new title, the eighth track on U2's Joshua Tree album, which made its way onto many mix tapes of my youth. The album gets brief mention in the novel, though the song does not. Its reference is more metaphorical, related to connection, disconnection, and memory. Our own so-called hard-wiring, which isn't technological at all.


Sarah Layden and Trip Through Your Wires links:

the author's website

PANK review


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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