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July 9, 2015

Book Notes - Karolina Waclawiak "The Invaders"

The Invaders

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.

Karolina Waclawiak impressively exposes the dark side of suburbia in her new novel The Invaders.

The Guardian wrote of the book:

"...The Invaders contains hints of the same fantastical realism found in Ellis’s Lunar Park or Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides. All these books romanticise the lonely topographies, both emotional and natural, that its characters inhabit. Waclawiak’s unadorned prose puts in stark relief dark houses, vacant gardens, even the ominous churning of the sea without resorting to belaboured Freudian cant."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.


In her own words, here is Karolina Waclawiak's Book Notes music playlist for her novel The Invaders:


Let me start with the premise for The Invaders: Cheryl has never been the right kind of country-club wife. She's always felt like an outsider, and now, in her mid-forties—facing the harsh realities of aging while her marriage disintegrates and her troubled stepson, Teddy, is kicked out of college—she feels cast adrift by the sparkling seaside community of Little Neck Cove, Connecticut. So when Teddy shows up at home just as a storm brewing off the coast threatens to destroy the precarious safe haven of the cove, she joins him in an epic downward spiral.

It’s important to note that nothing in this playlist screams Connecticut Summer Beach Party to me, nor will it to anyone else. That New England summer playlist would include the Grateful Dead, Dave Matthews Band, Steve Miller Band, and other bands of that ilk. Bands I do not have the stomach to listen to so you’re getting a playlist of songs that I listened to while writing this book. Songs that will hopefully put you in the headspace of my characters. It’s a spooky playlist and evokes the sinister feelings of melancholia that plague the world of The Invaders, a Connecticut beach community that has a lot of darkness under its bright New England sheen. Maybe you should listen to this playlist while flipping through Gregory Crewdson’s photography and reading my book. Then you’ll fully be in the world of The Invaders.

Flatlands – Chelsea Wolfe
I have loved Chelsea Wolfe’s music for a long time. She’s witchy and forlorn and I listened to her album Unknown Rooms a lot while writing this novel. I think this particular song perfectly captures my narrator Cheryl as she careens through the book. She’s constantly wrestling with what she wants and what she doesn’t. She always has a feeling of wanting something else, or to be somewhere else, or to be with someone else. She has a really hard time articulating what she wants though, which is a central tension in the book.

Lonesome Hunter – Timber Timbre
I recently came upon this artist through a friend. His voice is really something, there’s a sense of humor to his songs, but they’re also quietly violent. This one in particular feels like Stephen’s (a character in the book) swan song. It’s for all the sad boys running around the suburbs not knowing what to do with their want. And it has a bit of cruelty to it, which is interesting. It fits Stephen perfectly.

Small – Portishead
Oh, Portishead. I will listen to them until the end of time. I listened to Portishead an awful lot while trying to work out the issues with this book. I wrote all of it in Brooklyn and walked back and forth across the Williamsburg Bridge listening to Portishead while agonizing over Cheryl’s behavior and life choices. There’s such a sweet darkness to Portishead and Small is one of my favorites.

Porno – Arcade Fire
Another one for the boys in this book. I had to do a lot of toggling between male and female perspectives here because I have Cheryl, the stepmother in the book with one particular point of view, and Teddy, her stepson, with an entirely different worldview. It was a lot of juggling of want. I listened to different music while channeling the voices of each character. This song also evokes to me, a certain kind of illicit lust that I think runs through the book.

I Would For You – Nine Inch Nails
There’s also a lot of anger running through the pages of The Invaders. For me, Nine Inch Nails perfectly conveys the kind of disillusionment that Cheryl feels with her marriage. The exasperation of trying to make something work that feels like it will never work and in a sense, lashing out about all the things she’s tried and failed to do to keep that love alive. I think it comes from a human place—one where you’re trying to “fix” the unfixable. Love can be so transitory, but people hang on through all the shitty parts like addicts chasing after that initial high in a relationship.

I Would Have Liked Me a Lot Last Night – Arab Strap
This is definitely a song that I think exemplifies my other narrator Teddy. Always waking up the next morning and not quite remembering what he’s done, but thinking he is a legend in his own mind. That is until about halfway through the novel when his reckoning comes. I think it’s important to think about him as a broken person. Honestly, I think everyone in the book is a little bit broken. They just all happen to act out in different ways, for attention, or for someone to show them some kindness. Even if it feels absolutely misguided. Arab Strap is the perfect band to channel Teddy, though I don’t think he’d ever listen to them. He is the kind of lost boy who could cause a lot of pain, but could also be tender if he ever felt safe enough to truly be himself. Honestly, any Arab Strap song would do for Teddy—a sad drunk who can’t ever be loved enough.

The Hunt – Grizzly Bear
I listened to a LOT of Grizzly Bear while writing this book. I think they’re great lyricists and this particular song was on repeat often. It’s the last earnest cry before the shit starts hitting the fan in the novel. I don’t think I should say anything more because of SPOILERS.

Mermaids – Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
This song speaks, again, to that loss of love. I’ve been trying to find a way of writing about love just evaporating for a long time and couldn’t figure out how to do it in an interesting way. Listening to a lot of Nick Cave and other really, really good songwriters made me look at the problem of love disappearing in a new and exciting way.

Wave – Beck
What a beautifully lush song. Sorry, there’s a pattern to this entire set list. I was not fun to be around while writing this novel. I had the sads real bad because I was mining loss over and over and over again. Female loss of time, mostly, but everyone in this book is missing someone and it’s pervading the entire mix. Sorry to be such a joykiller. I think I always have been. At least this song is epically beautiful.

Dancing in a Dream – Jon DeRosa and Carina Round
I am so lucky to have a very talented musician husband whose work I listen to while creating my own work. It’s kind of amazing to have someone else’s work inform yours in such an intimate space. I feel like our creations are in conversation with each other sometimes. Jon’s record, Black Halo, from which this absolutely beautiful song comes, is also rife with loss. But, I add this song as a “happy ending.” Once you read the book you will understand more fully what I mean, of course. It feels hopeful against the last chapter. So I’ll just place it here and ask you to take this group of songs together as the peaks and valleys of The Invaders.

Thanks for listening.


Karolina Waclawiak and The Invaders links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

Electric Literature review
Guardian review
Kirkus review
Publishers Weekly review
The Toast review

Blue Mesa review interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for How to Get into the Twin Palms
Los Angeles Times profile of the author
Millihelen interview with 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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