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April 15, 2016

Book Notes - Melissa Ginsburg "Sunset City"

Sunset City

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.

Melissa Ginsburg's debut novel Sunset City is an impressive work of literary noir.

Booklist wrote of the book:

"Ginsburg, a poet, crafts pitch-perfect dialogue and develops Charlotte and Houston with a disarming mix of nostalgic sadness and brutal honesty. A great recommendation for readers who enjoyed Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects."

In her own words, here is Melissa Ginsburg 's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel Sunset City:

Sunset City is a literary noir set in the drug-fueled sex industry of Houston, Texas. A mystery novel that is also a meditation on friendship and loss. Danielle Reeves is charismatic, beautiful, and difficult. Her murder devastates everyone who knew her.

"I Think We're Alone Now," Tiffany
This song, unnamed in the novel, comes on the car radio the night Charlotte and Audrey become friends. They drive around high on coke after Danielle's funeral. The song was recorded in 1987, before Audrey or Charlotte were born, so it has always existed in their lives. They don't know or care who Tiffany is, but they know all the words and can sing along.

"Lua," Bright Eyes
A quiet, plaintive song about loneliness, cocaine, and one-night stands. This song acknowledges the folly of this lifestyle while evoking its compelling beauty. Drugs and sex are a perfect antidote to grief, for as long as they last, because they provide escape and connection simultaneously. This song pairs well with Chapter 9, in which Charlotte and Brandon, Danielle's grieving boyfriend, find one another.

"Sunset City," Magnetic Fields
This song was stuck in my head throughout the writing of Sunset City. Houston has beautiful, amazing sunsets, because of the high humidity and bad air pollution. You can see so much sky there, especially from the top of a freeway overpass. Stephin Merritt sings, "I stay so long in a place/And then move on to the next town." This one's for Audrey, who leaves home at 16 and never stops moving.

"Racing Like a Pro," The National
Sally Reeves, Danielle's mother, is a successful real estate developer—wealthy, powerful, and perhaps the loneliest person in the novel. If anybody ever wrote a love song for Sally, it would be this one. But no one ever did.

"Haunted," The Pogues with Sinead O'Connor
A growling, ethereal, nostalgic love song full of odd contrasts. Shane MacGowan slurs the amazing lines, "You were so cool/ you could've put out Vietnam." Everybody who ever knew Danielle Reeves feels this way about her. I can imagine the whole city singing to Danielle, "I want to be haunted by the ghost/of your precious love."

"This Is What Makes Us Girls," Lana del Rey
An anthem for Charlotte and Danielle, in the old days, a song about teen friendship, sunshine, and mutual destruction. It evokes the particular heartbreak of reckless, beautiful girls—awe at the power of their own desirability, knowing/not knowing that it's temporary, that it's not really power at all. They would die for each other's love, until it gets diluted and corrupted by drugs, boys, and adulthood.

"Survivor," Destiny's Child
Houston's hometown heroes. Charlotte listens to this song over and over when she runs in the Houston heat. But there's always a disconnect here. These ladies are so slick, so polished, they slid right out of town; Houston is not really a place that can contain superstars. Charlotte runs faster but feels more alone.

"Chord Organ Blues," Daniel Johnston
This one's for Houston. A Texas song that stays in Texas, running in circles, running itself raw. Still, it sounds like a celebration: "Everything's big in Texas, you know it is/I think I might've made a big mistake."

Melissa Ginsburg and Sunset City links:

the author's website

Austin Chronicle review
Booklist review
Guardian review

The DM Online 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

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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