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June 21, 2016

Book Notes - Matthew Norman "We're All Damaged"

We're All Damaged

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.

Matthew Norman's novel We're All Damaged is engaging, funny, and moving.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

"A smart, funny, and surprisingly emotional tale about letting go and moving on."

In his own words, here is Matthew Norman's Book Notes music playlist for his novel We're All Damaged:

When I was in grad school, one of my professors told us that when you reference a song in your writing, there needs to be a good reason. You can't just drop it in there for background noise. "In fiction," she argued, "everything has to mean something."

You hear a lot of things like that in grad school, but that really stuck, which I hope is evident here. Each of the ten songs below either appears in or had a huge influence on my novel We're All Damaged. I recommend playing them in your car, loudly, especially "F*ck Tha Police."

1. "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" by Wham!
The book starts with a pretty horrendous breakup scene. Andy, my main character, and his wife are eating at Applebee's, when she tells him that she wants a divorce. This song is playing when it happens. I believe in being tough on characters. I think we can all agree, hearing Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go during the worst moment of your life would be…well, pretty tough.

2. "The Safety Dance" by Men Without Hats
Speaking of tough, there's an early scene in which Andy's brother tries to rebel against absurd authority. I wanted to have that rebelliousness undercut by the song that's playing. After an unreasonable amount of brainstorming, I landed on this…maybe the least tough song ever.

3. "When Will They Shoot" by Ice Cube
To escape his current unhappiness, Andy regresses into artifacts from his youth, including a collection of old hardcore rap albums. In an early draft, Andy sings along to this song in his bedroom. I wrote out the lyrics and everything. Then my editor pointed out that I could get sued for that. Consequently, I had to write some of my own rap lyrics for Andy to sing. I freely admit, Ice Cube is a better rap lyricist than I am.

4. "In The Air Tonight" by Phil Collins
This song appears in Muzak form during a scene in a men's clothing store. Andy is a beat-up man; he's been stripped of his mojo. So, it seemed right to take this moody, intense classic and strip it of its mojo, too.

5. "Your Heart is an Empty Room" by Death Cab for Cutie
There's a character in the book named Daisy who makes it her personal mission to help Andy feel better. This song is playing as they talk in a used record store. Daisy's advice to Andy is summed up nicely in the opening lyrics. Burn it down till the embers smoke on the ground, And start new when your heart is an empty room.

6. "I'm Trying To Break Your Heart" by Wilco
The band Wilco inspired so much of this book—to the point that I actually thank them in the acknowledgments. What I love about this song is how it speaks to intent. When someone hurts you, regardless of their motive, it so often feels like they've done it for no reason other than, simply, to break your heart.

7. "Bad Blood" by Taylor Swift
If you've ever been wronged by someone, you probably have a speech written in your head ready to deliver passionately if you ever run into that person. Andy's speech sounds a bit like this song. I blame my children for that. They make me play Taylor Swift on a loop when we're in the car. They're monsters.

8. "All I Want is You" by U2
This was Andy and his ex-wife's wedding song. Breakups are full of emotional landmines like this. I can imagine Andy in his apartment, talking to himself. "All I want is you, huh? Well, I guess not!" This book is about Andy healing. But, I promise you, he'll never heal enough to hear this song without wanting to gouge his own ears out.

9. "F*ck Tha Police" by NWA
Before I wrote a single word of We're All Damaged, I knew that this song would be front and center during the book's climax. It's irreverent, angry, and brilliant, and it's blaring from a pair of old speakers at the moment Andy lets go of a year's worth of pain. I'm done, he's saying. F@ck it. F@ck all of it.

10. "After Hours" by We Are Scientists
While I was writing the first draft of We're All Damaged, the book nearly fell apart. The tone was too melancholy. The plot lumbered. I couldn't figure out who any of the characters were. And then this song came up on Pandora. I'd heard it before, but I'd never really listened to it. In three minutes and fifty-two seconds, things crystallized, and I realized that I wanted the book to be like this song—fast, frantic, and desperate. No matter how badly you've been damaged…this door is always open.

Matthew Norman and We're All Damaged links:

the author's blog

Kirkus review
Publishers Weekly review
Washington Independent Review of Books review

Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Domestic Violets
Writer's Bone interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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