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November 23, 2015

Book Notes - Jillian Cantor "The Hours Count"

The Hours Count

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.

Jillian Cantor's novel The Hours Count is a riveting mix of fact and fiction surrounding the lives of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

Library Journal wrote of the book:

"This intriguing novel that intertwines facts about the Rosenbergs into the life of an average American housewife is highly recommended for historical fiction fans."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In her own words, here is Jillian Cantor's Book Notes music playlist for her novel The Hours Count:

My novel, The Hours Count, reimagines the years leading up to Ethel Rosenberg's arrest and execution from the point of view of a fictional neighbor, Millie Stein. The novel cuts back and forth between the night Ethel is executed in June of 1953 and the years (1947 -1953) leading up to that. In the first scene of the book, June of 1953, Millie is driving towards Sing Sing on the night of the execution, and she has the radio on in the car. This first song I mention is in the book, but the others are ones Millie might have heard on her radio in the years leading up to that.

"Guilty," Ella Fitzgerald: As Millie is driving towards Sing Sing in 1953 she switches radio stations, hoping for a last minute reprieve for her friend Ethel whom she firmly believes is innocent. "But all I get is music: Ella Fitzgerald singing ‘Guilty.' It feels like a cruel joke, and I switch again."

"Almost Like Being in Love," Frank Sinatra: This song was popular in 1947, the year Millie first moves into Knickerbocker Village and meets Ethel. At the time Millie wears Helena Rubinstein blush to try to replicate the love and happiness she thinks everyone is feeling around her, but that she can't quite feel herself. She's hoping that her beautiful new apartment and all the other happy families in the building will change her cold relationship with her husband and the loneliness she feels as a mother to a young son who refuses to speak.

"Little White Lies," Dick Haymes: In 1948, when this song was popular, Millie starts bringing her son David to a therapist and telling her husband some little white lies of her own to get what she wants. In an era before the pill, Millie also has to figure out how to keep her husband happy but avoid having another baby, which she feels desperately unprepared for.

"Some Enchanted Evening," Perry Como: This was the number one song in August of 1949, when Russia detonated their test bomb and when Millie finally finds a day and an evening of (fleeting) happiness. I imagine her listening to this on the radio when she briefly escapes the city with her son for what she describes as "that one perfect day" in the Catskills.

"It Isn't Fair," Sammy Kaye: Popular in 1950, it describes so much of what happens to Millie and to her friend, Ethel Rosenberg, this year. Millie is struggling to keep her life and family together but it seems like everything is being taken away from her. In the summer Julius is arrested, and then Ethel. In real life, Ethel would leave her children with a neighbor on the day she was arrested in August, 1950 and would never come home to them again. In my novel, Millie is this (fictional) neighbor, and as she says in the book when she's talking about what happened to Ethel "But it's not fair. . . it's not right."

"Why Don't You Believe Me?" Joni James: Millie might have heard this song in 1952 as she follows all the appeals in Ethel's case, hoping for the verdict to be overturned. But she is also going through some personal turmoil of her own at this point, wondering whom she can trust, and whom she can believe in.

Jillian Cantor and The Hours Count links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

BookPage review

Arizona Jewish Post profile of the author
CarolineLeavittville interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Margot
New York Journal of Books review
Signature essay by the author
Tucson Weekly profile of 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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musician/author interviews
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