July 12, 2016
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Caroline Angell's novel All the Time in the World is a poignant debut about grief and family.
Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:
"Angell's remarkable debut is a complex story about love, family, grief, the destiny that is handed to us, and the destiny that we choose. . . . Angell's canny insight into relationships and the demons her characters must face to find satisfaction in their work and personal lives makes this the kind of book readers won’t want to see end."
The plot of my novel, All the Time in the World, centers around Charlotte, a young composer living in Manhattan, dealing with a professional betrayal that rocked her world. Or not dealing with it, rather, as she's gotten a day job that distracts and fulfills her: working as a babysitter for the McLeans, an Upper East Side family that she's come to love and prioritize. Charlotte finds this to be an acceptable way to make a living while she figures out how to move forward from the event that stopped her in her tracks.
Then, suddenly, tragedy strikes the McLean family when Gretchen, wife to Scotty, mother to Matt and George, employer to Charlotte, is killed in a tragic accident. Charlotte is now presented with the impossible choice of whether to cut and run, returning to the pursuit of the life she once had planned for herself, or to stay and help hold this family together through their unimaginable loss.
As a composer, Charlotte has a long-standing relationship with music. (In her own words, "I could draw a straight line from Yamaha preschool to the beloved record player my parents kept in our upstairs hallway, where I would sit and fixate for hours as a kid; from the evolution of my high school passions, Joni Mitchell to Vivaldi to Sondheim to The Clash; from conservatory in the Midwest, to graduate school in New York, to scholarships and recitals and being chosen over and over and over.") As a result of her setback, the relationship became complex and harder to define. She has a wealth of new emotional experiences as she navigates the events of the plot. Writing her in the first person was a spazzy headspace to be in. You'll see evidence of this in the incredibly non-cohesive playlist I'm sharing.
(Disclaimer: The Clash is not on this list, and neither are Vivaldi or Sondheim. Joni Mitchell almost made the cut, but she got pushed out by Eddie Vedder, who composed an entire album on the ukulele. Like a boss.)
Greg Laswell (cover of Kristin Hersh)
Here's an alternative, emo song to kick us off, because, let's face it, Charlotte has tons of stuff to feel alternative and emo about during the course of the story. She feels as if she's walking around with the ghost of Gretchen; doing her best to pick up the pieces left behind by a woman who just wasn't finished.
As it turns out, Eddie Vedder is a musical genius, as exemplified by this album. (Pearl Jam fans, don't all scream "DUH" into my face at once. You can take turns, if you want). This song evokes the idea that a broken heart is an ordinary occurrence. Hearts break every day. But the other side of the coin is that every day, people find ways to move through heartbreak, and learn to carry it with them. If my novel were scored, this song would play during a scene near the end, where Charlotte and Scotty are sitting on the floor of his closet, sorting through Gretchen's possessions. Because you still need to make room for your winter clothes, even if you are living with a broken heart.
The lyrics here suggest that the narrator has every reason to want to wallow and dwell and stay put in misery. But he isn't actually ready to get close to the pain, so he's in sort of a fast paced denial, or, amnesia. Charlotte, if left to her own devices, might choose to let the current situation paralyze her, as she has with past grief. But now there are two little kids involved. The stakes are higher. She loves them, and she has to keep moving for them.
"Puff, the Magic Dragon"
Peter Paul and Mary
Peter Yarrow wrote this with Leonard Lipton. Leonard's participation in the composition is not common household knowledge; I originally theorized that this was because Peter, Paul, Mary & Leonard is a silly name for a group, so of course, they had to keep him a secret, off in the wings, sort of like a singing group heeler. But as it turns out, Leonard wasn't actually a musician. So he probably didn't mind that he wasn't in the group, and also, his filmmaking career kept him pretty busy. Leonard wrote the words to Puff as a poem on a random typewriter in someone else's house when he was nineteen. That typewriter actually belonged to Peter (Lenny was friends with his housemate), and years later, he called Leonard up and asked for permission to put the words to music for his band. The poem he found on his typewriter had struck him in such a meaningful way that he had kept it all those years. And that's how the song was born. (All associated parties swear that the song is in no way a veiled reference to drug use. I'm pretty sure I believe them, but I'm also a sucker for a story like that one.) This is a song about the loss of childhood innocence, which is probably enough of an explanation as to its inclusion. Physical challenge: try not to cry and picture a sad puppy when he gets to the line about the dragon bending his head in sorrow.
"Man Who Sold the World"
Nirvana (cover of David Bowie)
Bowie was concerned with the idea of multiple identities when he wrote this, and it was something that he obviously grappled with his entire life. In a radio interview, he told Mary Anne Hobbs, "That song for me always exemplified kind of how you feel when you're young, when you know that there's a piece of yourself that you haven't really put together yet. You have this great searching, this great need to find out who you really are." All the Time in the World has been referred to as a coming-of-age tale, and this is the essence of that concept - figuring out who you are in your current situation, and in the larger context of your life. Nirvana's cover has a desperate, borderline feeling to it; mostly because of the intensely emotional quality to Kurt Cobain's voice, like he's begging for someone to call his bluff. It gets harder and harder to hold it together when you're pretending to be something other than what you are; Charlotte wrestles this demon throughout the novel.
Just in case you were thinking the last name might be a coincidence, I'll let the cat out of the bag: My sister is a singer/songwriter. She wrote this song on the kitchen floor of the apartment we used to share, the layout of which inspired the model for Charlotte's apartment. (But as you listen to the lyrics here, you should know that I'm pretty indignant about the allegation that there are cracks in the tiles of my kitchen floor. Just while we're on the subject.) I come from a family where music was a pervasive part of our upbringing, so composer was a natural choice for my protagonist's career. And much of what I know about the life of a modern musician comes from watching my sister make her way through the scene.
(I first heard this song on a television show. A complete fluke, as I rarely watch television, and when I do, it tends to be responsible programming, like Sesame Street and 60 Minutes. Yeah, 60 Minutes is where I first heard this song. It definitely wasn't The Vampire Diaries.) More than once, Charlotte has to navigate the particular intimacy of living in someone else's house and helping to raise children that aren't her own. She finds herself having to contend not only with Scotty, Gretchen's husband, but also with his brother Patrick, a man who is unclear about his intentions toward Charlotte, but to whom she is inexplicably drawn. This song captures all of that blurred-line confusion, the slight sense of danger in following your instincts through a highly charged situation.
The defiant, aggressive pace of this song reminds me of New York City, and the lyrics have to do with the struggle of overcoming. Appropriate for Charlotte, who feels that she has only herself to rely on and has to suppress her baser, more unproductive emotions. (This song also gets bonus points for having a controversial video involving Shia Labeouf and a giant cage.)
"You Can Close Your Eyes"
Charlotte, in her position of de facto primary caregiver, feels compelled to respond to the kids with all the loving patience she can summon. Music connects them in the midst of many tough moments. The simplicity of this lullaby is what makes it comforting; reassurance is there in the melody and the instrumentals, and especially the lyrics.
Trent Reznor wrote this song, and it first appeared on the 1994 Nine Inch Nails album The Downward Spiral. But evidently, it transcends genre. Cash's version is tense, and highly emotionally evocative. There's despair in the lyrics for sure, but to me, it has a distinct thread of hope. There's an acknowledgment of his own vulnerability, but that doesn't necessarily translate to weakness. Charlotte's feeling about music is that it is "...insidious, like sorrow, like genetics. It sneaks into the corners. It pushes open the doors that you worked so hard to keep shut." This is a song that makes you feel understood, even on your darkest day.
Caroline Angell and All the Time in the World links:
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)
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)