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June 10, 2016

Book Notes - Laura Ellen Scott "The Juliet"

The Juliet

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.

Laura Ellen Scott's novel The Juliet is dark, quirky, and fun.

Paula Bomer wrote of the book:

"Unleashing an ensemble of quirky characters rivaling an Altman film, the always wicked and never predictable Laura Ellen Scott gives us The Juliet--a novel about legend, danger, and desire that is as wonderfully alarming as wildflower season in Death Valley."

In her own words, here is Laura Ellen Scott's Book Notes music playlist for her novel The Juliet:

The Juliet is about the search for a cursed emerald in Death Valley, but it's also about the American urge to remake one's identity, which is why we go "out west" in the first place. The novel presents two braided timelines: episodes from 100 years of the gem's history, and seven days in Death Valley in the Spring of 2005 during a record wildflower bloom that forces retired cowboy actor Rigg Dexon out of seclusion. He then stuns a fan named Willie Judy by committing the ultimate cowboy cliché act; he gives her the deed to an historic property known as "The Mystery House," long thought to be the last hiding place of The Juliet.

There are a lot of musical references in the novel, not the least of which is the "Indian Lake" style pop song that gives The Mystery House its name, along with clues as to where The Juliet might be hidden, but as a set the songs are more jarring than enjoyable, so what follows is a playlist that better aligns with the atmospheres I tried to create.

"Personal Jesus," (acoustic), Depeche Mode

The opening chapter is set in the '80s at a late night, drunken graveside vigil in a Death Valley ghost town called Centenary, where Gen-Xers bond over a legend about a prostitute named Lily Joy who was murdered there seventy years earlier. Then, of course, a scary old caretaker chases them off.

"Coyote," by Joni Mitchell

I regret omitting horses from The Juliet, but there are coyotes.

"El Paso," by Marty Robbins
"Dead Eyes," by Adia Victoria

For very different reasons, Rigg Dexon and Willie Judy are hyper aware of how they are perceived by others. For Rigg, heroic purpose, such as dying for love, is just part of his life as an actor, so "El Paso" is a perfect theme song for him. However, Willie is rarely the person people want her to be, and she's not interested in adapting to please the world.

"Maybe Sparrow" by Neko Case
"He Lays in the Reins," Calexico & Iron & Wine

At 30, Willie is already middle-aged, judging by her short-lived family. "Sparrow" mocks the purpose-filled death, an attitude that's right in Willie's comfort zone, at least for a while, until Rigg tries to change her point of view. His patronizing swagger requires an audience, though." He Lays in the Reins," speaks a bit more truly about Dexon on his own, especially at this stage in his life.

"Indian Lake," by The Cowsills
"The Hungry Wolf," by X
"Tiny Cities Made of Ashes," Sun Kil Moon
"Crawl Home," Desert Sessions with PJ Harvey and Josh Homme

These songs are a great soundtrack for the compressed emotionality of the American "vacation"--starts bright before it turns weird and bad quick. This is what happens to Nene and Baron Glatter, a retired couple who have driven out west to find The Juliet, based on clues embedded in a 70s pop song about The Mystery House. That song is supposed to be as schlocky as "Indian Lake," but the context is very dark, owing to the cult murder of the songwriter just before its release. Obviously, I was inspired by stories of Charles Manson early attempts at a music career and the rumors of him auditioning for the Monkees.

"Wilderness," by Active Child
"Hello Earth," by Kate Bush
"Ghost Riders in the Sky," Johnny Cash

In keeping with the tradition of Westerns, most of the scenes in The Juliet take place outside, and the majority of those are at night. These are big sky songs that I know would get Willie Judy's heart racing. "Wilderness" captures the thrill of the escape, whereas "Hello Earth" and "Ghost Riders" are simply masterpieces of cosmic awareness—Cash is looking up, and Bush is looking down.

Laura Ellen Scott and The Juliet links:

the author's website

JMWW essay by the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Death Wishing

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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