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June 16, 2016

Book Notes - Lisa Moore "Flannery"

Flannery

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.

Lisa Moore's YA debut Flannery is both resonant and readable.

Quill and Quire wrote of the book:

". . . perfectly planted in the sweet spot of YA writing. It's good for the smart literary teen and the teen who plows through salacious bestsellers. It's also for the adult who wants to remember how hard and how beautiful it was to be a teenager. This one is highly recommended."


In her own words, here is Lisa Moore's Book Notes music playlist for her novel Flannery:



1) "The Swimming Song" Loudon Wainwright III

"This summer I swam in a public place and a reservoir to boot
At the latter I was informal
At the former I wore my suit,
I wore my swimming suit, yeah!"

Wainwright sings about doing "swan dives and jackknives for you all," and tells us that once when we weren't looking, he "did a cannonball." He sings that he almost drowned but, "I held my breath and I kicked my feet and I moved my arms around."

Flannery is my first young adult novel. And this song seems a perfect metaphor for adolescence. The adventure of swimming through the unfamiliar medium of a sprouting body, new tallness, gangly limbs, love and disorienting desires.

There's a lot of nostalgia in Wainwright's song. It's nostalgia for the freedom before adulthood, before responsibility, before heartbreak. It's an homage to that sharp-edged cusp, the comingling of innocence and experience. That time when everything requires such bravery – jackknives, cannonballs – and naked emotion. As if every conversation with a potential crush is akin to taking off all your clothes on the poolside in front of the whole world and diving in.

There's lots of humor in this song, but it's also dead serious. Sometimes the sting from a belly flop can last a long time.

The protagonist in Flannery is a girl of sixteen. She feels that kind of joyous belly-flop crush for a boy; she falls in love. There's nothing puppy about this love. It's über-potent, as everything is in adolescence.

Maybe it's that undiluted potency of emotion that makes Wainwright's song nostalgic. It seems to me that nothing in life is ever as vivid or saturated with emotion as first love. Sometimes this love makes my character Flannery a little dopey. She does silly things, even dangerous things. But there's nothing silly about love, ever, and especially when one is a teenager and it's all new. Then love can be so beautiful it hurts. Or it can lead to haunting humiliation. It can take your breath away. And when it does, hopefully you will remember to kick your feet and move your arms around.

2) "We're Going to Be Friends" The White Stripes

"Climb the fence, books and pens
I can tell that we are going to be friends"

The elegant simplicity of this song about going back to school in the autumn captures the intensity of childhood friendships. Jack White's voice is assured and mellow. Almost a lullaby. Full of promise.

Flannery grows up in St. John's, Newfoundland, and most of the children she went to day care with also went to elementary school with her, and junior high and then high school. Same kids. They knew each other at birthday parties with cans of silly string, when they wore sneakers with soles that flashed red lights with each step, through "Itsy Bitsy Spider" and The Paper Bag Princess. They knew each other when they wore eyeglasses made out of plastic drinking straws.

Take a deep sip and the lime crush zooms up the transparent plastic straw, curls around one ear, circles an eye, zips over the nose to the other eye, (go cross-eyed watching this), around the second ear and into the mouth. Wait? How did it get to the mouth? Do it again! Take another sip! Laugh until it comes out your nose.

This is the time of water balloons hitting between the shoulder blades, no matter how hard you run through the sunlight dappling the lane arched over with trees in Bannerman Park. The smell of chlorine in your hair after the swimming pool, skateboards.

Zoom ahead a few months – same kids – but they've sprouted all over, twice as tall, gangly, breasts, hips, awkward changelings. They are the same/alien, sensitive/loud, scared/brazen, saucy/sweet. They are slathered in cologne, wearing belly tops and blazing with smarts.

At Halloween near the school lockers a boy might slam his locker door and turn to look deep in your eyes, I mean really look. And I mean deep. All the seriousness of one person truly seeing another, seeing someone they have known since car seats, but seeing her new, recognizing her. And then that boy might smile. And he might have, in his mouth, a pair of plastic Dracula teeth, the pointy tips stuck in there when his shoulder was hunched in his locker. Now drooling saliva.

I can tell that we are going to be friends.

3) "On the Radio" Regina Spektor

"This is how it works, you're young until you're not…"

Regina Spektor is the absurdist that makes perfect sense. And I love anything that explains how things work!

4) "The Littlest Birds" The Be Good Tanyas

"Well, it's times like these I feel so small and wild,
like the rambling footsteps of a wandering child"

The harmonies of The Be Good Tanyas are so perfect they seem a holy mystery. How can separate voices come together as one like that? The banjos are playful and melancholy at the same time. There's a featherlight tune full of longing and wanderlust.

"The littlest birds sing the prettiest songs" makes me think of children, of course, though the song is not about children.

It's about singing, even if you are sad. Flannery has never met her father. She is a child of a one-night stand, a liaison that occurs at a retro-disco party where everyone wears long blue tinsel wigs because they were on sale at the Dollarama the day of the party.

I myself attended such a party when I was falling in love. I wore a wig of long blue tinsel and danced to the Bee Gees singing "Stayin' Alive," a song that I have since learned is the perfect beat for counting out the thumps you must administer to the chest of someone in cardiac arrest if you are giving them CPR. Thread your fingers together, one hand on top of the other, and use the heel of the lower hand to thrust life back into said victim while singing under your breath, "Stayin' alive, stayin' alive, ah, ah, ah, ah, stayin' alive."

In a recent CPR course that I attended in order to work on a cruise ship, each of the students were given a white plastic baby doll with a disposable plastic mouth guard so that we could practice mouth-to-mouth without catching the germs of the class that came before us. The mouth guards were red cellophane with the crumpled edges sticking up like little roses out of the lips of the ghostly babies. How frightening to be a parent. What a job! I breathed and counted and sang and pressed the sternum of that plastic baby, using only two fingers, because too much pressure will break the ribs and other bones. I pressed gently, I pressed for all I was worth.

5) "Both Sides, Now" Measha Breuggergosman

"The dizzy-dancing way we feel"

Google right this instant! Do not delay for a second longer listening to this profound rendition of Joni Mitchell's iconic ballad about innocence lost.

Measha is a Canadian opera singer. I met her at a speaking event in New Brunswick, where she is from, and admired her instantly. She is funny, generous, super smart and more alive than pretty much anyone I've ever met.

When I got home I googled; I wept. Such power. Such immediate beauty. What a boiled down, essential art singing is. The only instrument necessary: the human body. Lungs and heart. The skill, the control, the ability to make that kind of sound! After only a few minutes of watching this music video my whole face was wet with tears. It is humbling to listen to Measha sing. It's inspiring to know that human beings are capable of creating that kind of beauty.

6) "You're My Best Friend" The Once

Flannery has a best friend, Amber, and things go awry between them, as the friendships between girls of sixteen sometimes do. Things go horribly awry. Of course there's a romantic love for Flannery, and there's the relationship with her mother and the relationship with her little brother. But a friendship between girls in their teens is like fizz candy on the tongue – full of fireworks and bright new sensation, effervescent and of the moment. Hold fast, because these friendships are fragile – and when they burst and fizzle out, the hurt is dazzling.

7) "Not Today, Not Tomorrow" Kat McLevey

"I'm not coming home today, I've got too much I want to say"

There's a rumor that a cluster of boulders on Signal Hill, at the mouth of the St. John's harbor, turns into an Aeolian harp when a wind from the southwest blows through the cracks. It is a choir of voices, the voices of the fishermen lost at sea.

Okay, I started the rumor! Maybe there's no such rock formation on Signal Hill. Maybe there's no Aeolian harp. But Marconi sent the first wireless message ever from that hilltop, across the Atlantic, all the way to Europe, and it's kind of the same magic!

Flannery's mother, Miranda, believes there's an Aeolian harp, is the main thing, and one night when she is very drunk (she doesn't normally drink and she's been introduced to martinis on a disastrous date) she is picked up by the cops who believe she has been trying to conduct traffic at the Rawlins Cross intersection. The truth is she's been conducting the Aeolian harp. It's that kind of night.

Kat McLevey has a haunting voice, as clear and pure and rare as an Aeolian harp.

And leaving home because you've got too much to say – well this is the song of all young adults, if "home" is the cocoon of the self we bat our wings out of every single day.


8) "Little Fires" Aley Waterman

"Took your hands in my hands, held them soft as cotton blends"

Aley Waterman is a tremendous talent from Corner Brook, Newfoundland. A singer/composer/writer, Aley's lyrics are whimsical and woebegone-wry, too full of sensuality and arch awareness for real sadness to take hold for long. But there is also no shying away from the tough stuff. Honest, modern emotions here. Songs and stories full of the kind of awakenings that stretch us. The kind of awakenings that start when we are young, coming of age, and after that, never let us alone, thank heavens.

9) "I Put a Spell On You" She & Him

There are spells in Flannery. They're not supposed to work. They are gimmicks; they are like canned fog and pet rocks and mood rings. They accompany little bottles of love potions, also fake. But the power of suggestion takes hold. Flannery's friend, Amber, has a controlling boyfriend. He cuts Amber's friends out of her life; slaps her phone out her hand, ultimately humiliates her.

It's the slow, unfeeling, cold and precise destruction of a girl. In this rendition of that powerful song, Zooey Deschanel's voice is clear and controlled. But that same crystal voice comes close to shattering, close to screams – because of a poisonous, jealous desire to possess.

10) "Love Potion No. 9" The Clovers

"Smelled like turpentine, it looked like India ink"

But sometimes the love potions Flannery concocts bring just the right people together, love at first sight – no matter that it's just coloured water. Most people just need a good excuse.


Lisa Moore and Flannery links:

the author's Wikipedia entry

Kirkus review
Montreal Gazette review
National Post review
Publishers Weekly review
School Library Journal review

CBC News interview with the author
Labradorian profile of the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Caught
Toronto Star interview with the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

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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
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