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May 20, 2015

Book Notes - Anna North "The Life and Death of Sophie Stark"

The Life and Death of Sophie Stark

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.

Anna North's second novel The Life and Death of Sophie Stark is a bold and compelling exploration of art, artists, and the creative process.

Booklist wrote of the book:

"As taut and artistically ambitious as its title character, North's novel upends the trope of the lone, tortured genius, considering instead the deeply human consequences of one person’s uncompromising vision."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In her own words, here is Anna North's Book Notes music playlist for her novel The Life and Death of Sophie Stark:

The Life and Death of Sophie Stark has six points of view, so I had to capture the perspectives of six totally different people as I was writing it. Music was one way I did this; as I worked, I started associating certain songs with certain characters, and sometimes I'd play them if I needed to get myself into a Robbie mood (serious but uncertain), a Jacob mood (contemplative with buried sadness), or an Allison mood (passionate, maybe a little angry). Jacob, Sophie Stark's husband, is a musician himself, so it was natural for me to think a lot about music while I was writing his chapter, but most of the characters came to have their own musical signatures.

Each of the songs below corresponds to a particular chapter of The Life and Death of Sophie Stark. If you listen to them in order, I think they tell the story of the book — or at least the story of how I think about each section of it.

Allison's first chapter: "Thinkin Bout You," Frank Ocean
I came to Channel Orange relatively recently, but now I love Frank Ocean's voice and the stories he's telling. "Thinkin Bout You" is sweeter than some of the other tracks, so I like it for Allison's first chapter and the beginning of her romance with Sophie. But there's some sorrow in the song too, a hint that things haven't always gone well for the speaker and his lover — as, indeed, things won't always go well for Allison and Sophie, no matter how much they love each other when they meet.

Robbie's first chapter: "This Year," The Mountain Goats
This is such a beautiful, sad, hopeful song about being a teenager. It's a song about the future, and it always makes me think of that time in adolescence when the future seems so huge compared to the present, when everything seems like it's about to happen. Robbie's a little older than the speaker here, but like him, he's full of pent-up energy and waiting for life to start. This is also just one of my favorite songs, generally. The Mountain Goats typically close shows with this, and everybody always goes wild.

Jacob's chapter: "Woman King," Iron & Wine
I thought about Iron & Wine a lot when I was writing Jacob's chapter. I think Sam Beam is sort of who Jacob wishes he could be — Jacob is an okay singer-songwriter in a folky vein, and he gets better later in the book when he focuses more on instrumentals. For me, "Woman King" captures the mood Jacob wants to capture in his music but can't quite, and also the mood of the lake house where he and Sophie meet. The whole Woman King EP is just beautiful, one of my favorite Iron & Wine albums and also, I think, a little bit of a departure from his other work.

Daniel's chapter: "If I Wanted Someone," Dawes
I don't think Daniel would listen to Dawes — musically, he and I might not agree on much. But a lot of Dawes songs seem to come out of a kind of wounded, searching masculinity that makes me think of him. I like the specificity of this song — the speaker knows exactly what he's looking for. Daniel doesn't, exactly, but by the end of his chapter I think Sophie gives him what he didn't know he needed. I think he's one of the characters in the book who gets the most from Sophie, who's helped as much as if not more than he's hurt by her.

George's chapter: "Let the Devil In," TV on the Radio
I actually listened to Return to Cookie Mountain a lot while writing my first novel, America Pacifica, and these songs are really burned into my brain. They feel science-fictional to me for some reason; I remember driving to Santa Cruz and listening to this album and imagining a woman with pterodactyl wings. George is a big sci-fi fan, and the whole album puts me in a George mood. I picked "Let the Devil In" because I like the feel of it, and because it's in no way a love song. Unlike Jacob and Daniel and Allison, George isn't in love with Sophie, at least not sexually — his relationship with her is quieter, though it still ends up causing him pain.

Allison's second chapter: "Girl in New Orleans," Sarah Dougher
I was listening to Day One all the time in the early stages of writing The Life and Death of Sophie Stark — I think I initially discovered it on a list of recommendations by John Darnielle. The album had a big influence on the first draft — "Secret Porno Collector," which is a sweet, sad song about, yes, a secret porno collector, helped me conceive of a character who I eventually cut from the book, but who got me a lot closer to understanding Sophie and her early years. "Girl in New Orleans" is a beautiful, spare song about betrayal, and it's perfect for Allison's second chapter, when she and Sophie are both a bit less innocent, but no less capable of hurting each other.

Robbie's second chapter: "Second Bird of Paradise," The Rosebuds
I listened to a lot of The Rosebuds in 2011 and 2012, both Loud Planes Fly Low and the earlier Life Like. "Nice Fox," off Life Like, is definitely a Jacob song; it helped me a lot when I was figuring out his character. But "Second Bird of Paradise" is Robbie all the way, and I think it's late Robbie — a little sadder, a little wiser than the wired, hopeful Robbie of chapter two and "This Year." Of all the songs on this list, this one is the closest lyrical match to its book chapter ("She's my sister," sings Ivan Howard, "and she floats like a bird in the canopy"), but I also just like its sort of ethereal mood.

Ben Martin's chapters: "The Man Who Sold the World," Nirvana
A friend and I were obsessed with this song in high school (the Nirvana unplugged version specifically, though the Bowie one is also good). I still love it, and now I think it captures Ben's character well — it's a song about isolation, but it also feels nerdish and intellectual in a way (maybe just because I was a nerd in high school) that makes me think of Ben's critical side. Ben's writing is in part his response to a world that's always made him feel like an outsider, and this song evokes that feeling for me.

Allison's last chapter: "Sugar Boy," Beth Orton
Beth Orton is another high-school favorite who has remained a favorite. I love Trailer Park and Central Reservation, and a lot of songs from either of those albums could have worked for Allison's last chapter. But I like the finality of "Sugar Boy," and the speaker's insistence that she's not going to let a love affair destroy her.

Bonus track: "Because the Night," Patti Smith
This one doesn't necessarily correspond to a specific chapter, but I wanted to put it on the list because I think it's important to the book as a whole. I thought about Patti Smith, especially her ‘60s and ‘70s look, when I was writing about Sophie. I've always loved "Because the Night" (though the first version I heard was the 10,000 Maniacs one, as a teenager), and now the song makes me think of Allison and Sophie. Maybe it always will.

Anna North and The Life and Death of Sophie Stark links:

the book's website
excerpt from the book

Huffington Post review
Kirkus review
NPR Books review
Publishers Weekly review

The Atlantic 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

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