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April 28, 2016

Book Notes - Colleen M. Story "Loreena's Gift"

Loreena's Gift

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, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Colleen M. Story's debut novel Loreena's Gift is a compelling work of literary fantasy.

In her own words, here is Colleen M. Story's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel Loreena's Gift:



For the heroine in Loreena's Gift, music is one of life's greatest comforts. Blind since the age of nine, she plays the organ, piano, and cello in her uncle's church, and finds deep joy in her instruments. They are like friends in what for her is a lonely world, but they're also her way to express the many emotions that come with being who she is—someone who can transport people from the world of the living to the other side.

Loreena is separated from her instruments early on in the story, but music continues to follow her on her journey, in the bars where's she's forced to use her gift as a weapon, in the house where she's kept captive, and in her memories of family and home. But as her challenges become more difficult to overcome, music fades from her landscape, abandoning her in a way, until she's left with nothing but that which is deep inside her—this gift that for so long has frightened her—to cling to.

In imagining a soundtrack for the novel, which takes place in 1967, I found many songs were already there, having played in the background of the scenes or in the imagined spaces between, though they remained unnamed in the text. The rest seemed to fit for other reasons, having inspired the story, or reflected the heart of it in some way.

"Prologue" — Loreena McKennitt

When drafting a story, I often have one song that speaks to me, that seems to encompass the spirit of the tale. For LLoreena's Gift, it was more an entire album: the Book of Secrets by Loreena McKennitt. No surprise the main character took the name, though I didn't make that decision consciously. I hadn't listened to the album for some time when I started the story, but the echoes were there in my head, and the music and the character came together in the name. I imagine the Prologue from the album, in particular, as potentially opening the story, because of its ethereal and meditative sounds, reminiscent of the other worlds Loreena is about to visit.

"Abide with Me" — Christian Hymn
Loreena spends most of her life from the age of nine on in a church, where her uncle is the reverend. Every Sunday and Wednesday she plays the piano and the organ for the services. The opening scene takes place after one such Sunday service, and it seems to me this hymn would be perfect in the background as Loreena makes her way from the church to her house. She questions what she is about to do, which is to go with her uncle to perform her second end-of-life "ritual," in which she will guide a terminally ill patient to the other side. Her uncle tells her that her "gift" is from God, but she doubts this. I think the lyrics, "The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide," might echo in her heart as she prepares.

"Make the World Go Away" — Eddy Arnold
My mom had a lot of Eddy Arnold albums she played as I was growing up. I can imagine his sweet voice singing during the first ritual in the story, on a tinny radio in the corner of the room where a man lies dying of lung cancer. Loreena takes him on a gentle journey, one that helps him leave the world behind in peace.


"Break On Through (to the Other Side)" — The Doors
Loreena's brother, Saul, returns to town after being gone for three years. He's taken the wrong track in life, and gotten himself involved in a biker gang that's selling speed. Loreena is terribly fond of him, and tries to reconnect by going with him and his girlfriend to a bar outside of town one Friday night. He picks her up in a Mustang convertible, and when he turns on the music it blasts in Loreena's ears, the volume up much higher than she's used to. I imagine this song for that scene, and think The Doors would have been one of Saul's favorite groups.

"Once a Day" — Connie Smith
Loreena lives in a small town in Idaho, so when she and her brother and his girlfriend go to the bar, it's a country music band that's playing. Loreena is reminded of how lonely she's been without her brother—the one person who knew her best and used to be her "eyes" in the world—and worries they may soon be separated again. I imagine Connie Smith's crying voice echoing out over the clink of beer glasses and the laughter of the crowd, "the only time I wish you weren't gone is once a day, every day, all day long."

"Blessed Assurance" — Christian Hymn

Though she's loved playing in the church for years, after Saul returns to town and shakes things up, Loreena begins to question her life, and how she lives it. One Sunday morning, she plays a hymn at the close of the service. She's done it thousands of times before, but this time she has little patience for the congregation's tendency to slow the rhythm down. This hymn has a unique sort of triplet feel, which makes it even easier for an amateur choir to lose their tempo. On this particular day, Loreena gets fed up with it, and charges ahead in time, leaving the congregation behind, until she finishes the hymn, alone. The act foreshadows other decisions she will soon make that will isolate her completely from everything she knows and loves.

Cello Concerto in E minor, Opus 85 — Edward Elgar
Loreena finds joy in playing the piano and the organ, but it's the cello she turns to when she needs to think, or pour out her more troublesome feelings. As she plays, her emotions seem to flow down her arm and into the bow she pulls steadily over the strings. This melancholy, heart-breaking concerto might have echoed in the grand church sanctuary after all the members were gone, with only the figures in the stained glass windows to listen.

"Ribbon of Darkness" — Marty Robbins (written by Gordon Lightfoot)
Saul is a tragic character, drawn into the darkness by a pain he feels but can't understand or describe, while all through the story his wish is for things to go back as they were, before his mother was killed in the car accident that robbed Loreena of her sight. As he falls deeper into a crime world and unwittingly pulls his sister into it, too, I imagine Lightfoot's "Ribbon of Darkness" (in Marty's unequaled voice) swirling around them both, threatening to drown them. "Clouds are gatherin' over my head, That kill the day and hide the sun, That shroud the night when day is done, Ribbon of darkness over me…"

"Ring of Fire" — Johnny Cash
Loreena spends some time in a biker bar, run by the head of the gang to which Saul has pledged loyalty. There is always music playing on the jukeboxes in these places, and Johnny Cash would be a favorite at this time, especially with tough guys in black leather boots.

"Blue Hawaii" — Elvis
During Loreena's captivity, she sometimes loses herself in memories of her mother, back when she was alive and Loreena still had her sight. One such memory involves her mother humming this song while she tends to her roses, and Loreena wonders if she ever got to go to Hawaii. Her mother never spoke of it, so Loreena thinks she probably didn't, and to escape the conditions she's in, she imagines the two of them there, walking the beach, and finds some comfort in the daydream.

"Hey Jupiter" — Tori Amos
This song has a distressing, pulled-apart quality that mirrors Loreena's feelings at one particular point in the book. I can't say more than that or I would be revealing too much, but one can imagine Loreena gazing up at the stars and planets, trying to recover some sense of wholeness, and saying something like "Hey Jupiter, nothing's been the same….Thought we both could use a friend to run to."

Requiem, Dies Irae — Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Frank Hellmer, the leader of the biker gang and the antagonist, fancies himself an educated and sophisticated individual. Rather than the leathers usually worn by his kind, he dons a suit and dress shoes, wears musky cologne, and listens to classical music. In one scene, he comes up on Loreena as she's walking, the radio playing in his fancy car, and I imagine Mozart's bombastic Dies Irae heralding his entrance, and later, accompanying him on his dark and murderous pursuits.

"Nowhere Man" — The Beatles
Loreena gets to know a couple of Frank's men really well, and this song would be a suitable background to some of the scenes where they show their "true colors," so to speak—men who seem to have few thoughts of their own, but only blindly follow their leader, no matter how misguided.

"The Highwayman" — Loreena McKennitt

Another on the album, Book of Secrets, "The Highwayman" is a narrative poem by Alfred Noyes. The lyrics tell the story of a woman who sacrifices herself for the man she loves, and his tragic death in turn, and it has a ghostly, haunting quality to the ending. McKennitt puts the poem to music with a riding, hoofbeat rhythm and a lingering violin, but there is hope for reunion even in the afterlife—a hope that Loreena often clings to throughout the story.

"Monday Monday" — The Mamas and the Papas
There is a scene toward the end of the book that takes place after a Sunday morning service. Loreena overhears a couple of young girls singing this song, which was released in 1966. Though the lyrics are about heartbreak, the tune has a happy melody, and when Loreena hears the girls singing it, it affects her this way, as something optimistic, that Monday morning might be all she hopes it will be.


Colleen M. Story and Loreena's Gift links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

The Grand Valley Daily Sentinel 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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