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November 20, 2015

Book Notes - Jennifer Miller "The Heart You Carry Home"

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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.

Jennifer Miller's novel The Heart You Carry Home is a moving account of the cost of war to both combatants and their loved ones.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"In a powerful novel about soldiers returning from war, Miller shows that sometimes the worst wounds of war are the ones not visible from the outside...Miller's vivid characters illustrate the emotional and physical damages brought home by returning veterans, forcing the reader into harrowing, moving places. This novel will haunt readers long after the final page is turned."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.


In her own words, here is Jennifer Miller's Book Notes music playlist for her novel The Heart You Carry Home:


The Heart You Carry Home is a book filled with sound: there are the ear-blasting motorcycles; Appalachian fiddle tunes, both haunting and upbeat; and open-road anthems of the novel's fierce-blooded road kings (and queens). Most of the songs on this play list would make good riding music—that is, if you can hear the melodies, over the roar of a two dozen engines.

Born in the USA—Bruce Springsteen, 1984
The most misunderstood song of the 20th century. Radio stations have turned this song into a second national anthem, a fist-pumping tribute to American might, played relentlessly on the Fourth of July. But if the melody and instrumentation are a projection of our country's optimistic idealism, the lyrics convey a much darker reality. Born in the USA is about failure, not triumph. It's about disenfranchisement and empty promises. It's a song about the Vietnam War and its domestic aftermath--Springsteen's scathing critique of our nation's refusal to take care of our own.

Rye Whiskey—The Punch Brothers, 2010
When the novel opens, Sgt. Ben Thompson is self-medicating with whiskey. He's attempting to escape the war, his loss of purpose, his guilt. Ben drinks to battle his PTSD, but the mental illness and drunkenness aren't so different for him. The Punch Brothers sing it well: I used to wake up bright and early, get my work done quickly, held my baby tightly. Rye whiskey makes the sun set faster…but rye sleep isn't good sleep. And of course, there's the refrain about the drunkard taking his baby for granted, which, in many ways, is what Ben does to Becca. This song also kicks off with a terrific fiddle intro, just the kind of thing Ben might play if he wasn't drinking.

Unknown Legend—Neil Young, 1992
Somewhere on a desert highway, she rides a Harley Davidson. Her long blond hair flyin' in the wind. She's been runnin' half her life, the chrome and steel she rides, Collidin' with the very air she breathes. Becca cut off her long blond hair on the night of her high school graduation, but she spends a good part of the novel riding a Harley Davidson down a desert highway. The “runnin'” that Neil Young mentions probably works on two levels—a literal reference to motorcycling and the bike as an escape. In addition to being a talented long distance runner, Becca is also is seeking an escape: from her husband and the mistakes of her parents.

If 6 Was 9—Jimi Hendrix, from Easy Rider, 1969
The inclusion of this song on the playlist is a tribute to the movie Easy Rider, a travelogue about the outsider. The song is about living your own way and by your own rules, no matter what anybody says. It's about raising high the freak flag and saying fuck you to supposed to's.

Sally in the Garden—Traditional
This is one of my favorite fiddle tunes. The song holds great personal significance to Ben, who has learned to play it in order to close the cosmic distance between himself and his deceased father. Sally in the Garden encapsulates all that haunts Ben about who his dad was and who Ben himself is turning out to be.

Get Right With God—Lucinda Williams, 2001
Becca's mother Jeanine all but abandons her daughter for the sake of religion—so she can get right with God. At least, that's what Becca believes. Though Jeanine is undoubtedly devout, her escape into the arms of Jesus has other psychological motives, ones that Becca only discovers when her mother makes an unexpected appearance in the most unlikely of places.

One of These Nights—Eagles, 1975
Eagles music is good riding music and Reno, despite his rough attitude, would probably go in for this kind of sexy (but totally cheesy) song.

Wayfaring Stranger—Traditional (Jack White)
Like Sally in the Garden, this is a terrifically lonely fiddle tune. Everyone in the book is wayfaring in some form or another. They've all lost their ways. Some are struggling to find their way back home; others would prefer to stay lost. And there are plenty of times in the novel when Ben in particular is a stranger to himself.

Oh Agamemnon—Crooked Still, 2008
There's nothing in the song itself about Agamemnon, but the title is a tribute to Homer's Iliad and its vital role in the book. Toward the end, all of the characters end up at a compound in the Utah desert called Kleos, run by a war commander from Vietnam, who may or may not have the heart of a Hindu goddess embedded in his stomach. He lives by the warrior code of the ancient Greeks and seeks to teach that code to his fellow veterans at any cost—and the costs are indeed terrible. Two lines are significant: All I can give you is this gentle heart/And I'll forgive you if it rips your world apart. The heart in the book is far from gentle, but it does rip everyone's world apart.


Jennifer Miller and The Heart You Carry Home links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

Publishers Weekly review

Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Year of the Gadfly


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

Online "Best of 2015" Book Lists

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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