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February 18, 2016

Book Notes - Patrick Dacey "We've Already Gone This Far"

We've Already Gone This Far

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.

Patrick Dacey's We've Already Gone This Far is one of the most impressive debut story collections I have read.

Booklist wrote of the book:

"In the keen, observational short-story style of writers such as George Saunders and Lauren Groff, We've Already Gone This Far illuminates both the quotidian details and the profound strangeness of modern American life. Readers will find this set of mournful, biting, and resonant tales united not only by geography but also by Dacey's deep humanity towards his flawed characters."

Stream this playlist at Spotify.


In his own words, here is Patrick Dacey's Book Notes music playlist for his novel We've Already Gone This Far:


Thinking about this playlist in relation to the collection of stories, I think, like a collection, all the songs need to stand alone but also connect around the same sort of theme, which, in this case, is love and fear. So, with that in mind, I've attached each song to a story, in order of how the stories appear in the collection.


Patriots – "This Must Be The Place (Naïve Melody)" – Talking Heads (Stop Making Sense)

This entire book sort of revolves around this first story, and because the title of the song, the name of the band, name of the album, all seem to be part of the book in one way or another, and the song itself speaks to the only thing I know worth exploring—love—then it's a good choice to open up a playlist where every song hereafter falls under its umbrella. The setting for the book, the fictional town of Wequaquet, named after the lake I grew up near in Centerville, Massachusetts, and thinking about hearing the Talking Heads in my house (they were my mother's favorite band), and the wild anticipation in their music, the hopefulness, the love, and how a song like this can just cause you to let go completely, or, if not, wonder why you're not letting go, wonder what's wrong with you, you can't slow down the train of helpless thoughts running through your mind. At least, David Byrne seems like he wants me to get comfortable, then he wants me to go mad, then he wants me to thank him afterward.

To Feel Again the Kind of Love that Hurts Something Terrible – "Alone Together" – Grant Green (Green Street)

When I first come up with an idea for a story, write a first draft, I don't listen to music, and try to limit any outside noises or intrusions that aren't inside my head. But, when I'm revising, I listen mainly to Jazz greats. I worked through just about all of Grant Green's albums during the revision of this book, some Wes Montgomery, Coltrane, Jimmy Smith, Charlie Christian. This track, "Alone Together" always stopped me for a while. And I remember thinking about the father and son in this story, how, by telling their story from each perspective, you discover their loneliness, their search for something like love, and, so, alone together.

Downhill – "Goodbye Blue Sky" – Pink Floyd (The Wall)

For some reason I never got into Pink Floyd until recently. Maybe because the Pink Floyd light show was popular when I was growing up and I thought that was pretty lame, or maybe because I'd heard the classics so many times when I worked construction, I couldn't stand listening to them when I was alone. But, while I was working on this book, I became obsessed with the album "Animals" and from there I started going through their entire catalog. This song always struck me as the perfect kind of horror that The Wall represents, with the beginning notes of birds singing, to the hopefulness of a young girl's voice, and the lyrics so devastating, this song, like the story "Downhill," captures that ironic nature of man, to find some sort of peace in the continuous destruction of one's environment.

Friend of Mine – "Do the Evolution" – Pearl Jam (Yield)

At a point in this story, the narrator and his pal, Justin, two landscapers off work, are getting wasted, blasting Pearl Jam, not caring much about their neighbors, and I did this work for a while during summers, and I was these guys for a time, and, at least live, the loudest, most reckless and punishing song in Pearl Jam's catalog, to me, is "Do the Evolution," which, corny as it may sound, is part of the story itself, where the narrator doesn't seem to move on, while his pal does, and either way they are both wild beasts at heart, so it feels appropriate to this story, and playlist.

Never So Sweet – "Far Away Eyes" – Rolling Stones (Some Girls)

This is my favorite Stones album, probably because it's all over the place, and because, much like Neil Young, who I have next on the playlist, they're so true to their art that they can mess around with a disco song, a rock song, and a country song all on the same album, regardless of the times, which is part of their genius, and why true art lasts. This one in particular, I remember my mother singing in the car, mainly the chorus, and in this story, a beautiful, young, spontaneous woman shakes up the lives of a father and son, so it feels fitting.

Ballad – "Mellow My Mind" – Neil Young (Tonight's the Night)

The narrator of "Ballad," a washed up, broke, one-hit wonder musician, decides to pen a ballad for his unloving wife for her birthday, while she's at work and he's taking care of their newborn. The story is told in one long sentence, my attempt at getting as close as possible to the stream of thoughts one has in a short period of time, encompassing present action, recent past, distant past, projected futures, etc. And Neil Young is, to me, the greatest artist there is. He does what he wants, and is true to the spiritual source that flows through him, regardless of what anyone expects. Tonight's the Night is my favorite album of his, and part of that goes with the story behind the album, of Neil and his band getting hammered for three days straight and playing these songs without any of the band knowing them beforehand, so that the entire album feels raw and unrefined, and just never stops breaking your heart. "Mellow My Mind" is that ballad I want the narrator to write, because I feel that if he can, he has a chance at recapturing the love he once shared with his wife.

The Place You Are Going To – "Ol' 55" – Tom Waits (Closing Time)

My mother's favorite song, the song my ex-wife and I chose to have played for our first dance at our wedding, and the kind of track that makes your head feel light it's so beautiful. Here, in this story, is a man leaving a known place for the unknown. Every song, every story, is, in part, the story of leaving a known place for the unknown.

Mutatis Mutandis – "Black Star" – Gillian Welch (Single – Radiohead Cover)

I remember this being a popular Radiohead song, but I was never into Radiohead, and though I don't like covers all that much, this one I heard live, not knowing it was a cover, and I thought it was about the most perfect song I'd ever heard. I've been seeing Gillian Welch and David Rawlings perform live since they put out their first album, and no voice strikes my heart like Gillian's, and David Rawlings is a magician on the acoustic guitar. Because the character in this story is trying to change into someone she can love, but inevitably realizes she cannot know love unless she is loved by another, I thought of Black Star, and this cover, and the idea of covering a song at all, to feel it and know it and make it yours, because someone else felt it and knew it and made it theirs.

Acts of Love – "Willie and the Hand Jive" – Eric Clapton (461 Ocean Blvd.)

I wrote "To Feel Again the Kind of Love That Hurts Something Terrible," "Ballad," and "Acts of Love" all in the same day, just after my ex-wife and I broke up, and she broke my heart, and I was staying at a shithole in Roanoke, VA called the Affordable Corporate Suites, behind a Pizza Hut and next to a Chinese Massage Parlor, and the people living there were all ex-cons or addicts, or who knows what, and I was sick with pain, and woke up one morning and started writing and these three stories came out. It works that way sometimes. "Patriots" took three years to get right. "Never So Sweet" even longer. Anyway, I was listening to a lot of early Clapton then. "Willie and the Hand Jive" made its way into this story, and so did everything else that flowed through and around me at that time.

Incoming Mail – "Reason to Cry" – Lucinda Williams – (Essence)

"Patriots," "Incoming Mail," and "Lost Dog" are all connected by this character, Justin, who joins the Army and is sent to fight in insurgents in Iraq. The first story is told from the perspective of someone looking in on Justin's mother, and the last is from Justin's point of view. This story is in a series of emails/letters from Justin's mother, which tells her story in consecutive responses to letters from Justin that the reader doesn't get to see but can guess at how harsh they might be, and how hard it must be for not only Justin, but his mother, too, who, with all her blind optimism and hope, finally succumbs to the fact that her own life is falling apart. Lucinda Williams never lets up when she sings a rock ballad. She just digs deeper into that pit of endless despair with a voice that can destroy you with one note. Even though the story here is humorous at times, the mother's last letter to her son still destroys me.

Okay See You Soon Thanks For Coming – "One Big Holiday" – My Morning Jacket – (It Still Moves)

I wanted to write about fat, happy people. I wanted to feel fat and happy. Man, I feel fat and happy when I hear this song. Just that opening, like flying through space and blowing apart. Here is a band that doesn't let up. And in this story, a couple that doesn't give a shit what you think of them.

Frieda, Year Later – "Are You Experienced?" – Jimi Hendrix (Are You Experienced)

Leonard, The main character in this story, grew up when Hendrix, Joplin, The Doors, The Grateful Dead, and The Beatles were putting out the greatest rock music we've ever known. At some point, it seems, most people who lived during that time, flamed out or forgot, or were forced by circumstance to move into another kind of life that had no time left for soul searching. Then, naturally, there comes a point when you want to get back to that time, and so, Leonard travels from Massachusetts to Florida to visit the free-spirited, Frieda, who had taken his virginity in high school, and reconnects with that past self, wondering if he can ever go back for good, or if the past is too far gone.

Lost Dog – "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" – Bob Dylan (Bringing It All Back Home)

I usually skip over this song when I'm on a Dylan kick, mainly because it's so good it's intimidating. But, considering the story "Lost Dog" is about a wandering soldier in the desert in Iraq, and the only way to make sense of what's going on around him is to agree that nothing makes sense, then he can live in that present, and be all right, for a little while, at least.


Patrick Dacey and We've Already Gone This Far links:

excerpt from the book

Kirkus review
Publishers Weekly review
Toronto Star review

Virginia This Morning 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)
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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