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February 7, 2017

Book Notes - Laird Hunt "The Evening Road"

The Evening Road

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.

Filled with strong characters and lyrical prose, Laird Hunt's The Evening Road is one of the year's finest novels.

Kirkus Reviews wrote of the book:

"Hunt's new book raises his own high bar further with an almost fablelike view of prejudice and cruelty some 60 years after emancipation... Hunt finds history or the big events useful framing devices, but he is more interested in how words can do justice to single players and life's fraught moments. Hunt brings to mind Flannery O'Connor's grotesques and Barry Hannah's bracingly inventive prose and cranks. He is strange, challenging, and a joy to read."

In his own words, here is Laird Hunt's Book Notes music playlist for his novel The Evening Road:

I listen to music whenever I write. I just can't do it any other way. These are some of the songs that were circling around me when I was working on The Evening Road or thinking about it afterward.

1) "Ilanga Langishiya" by Alberto Mwamosi and Gabriel Maopano Bila from Sounds Eastern and Southern

This was the song that lit the fire for me, many a time, when I would sit down to try to do some work on the novel. I'm thinking that no matter who the person and what the chore it would have a similar effect.

2) "Poor Old Lance" by Frank Fairfield from Out on the Open West

Someone got the idea that putting up those giant wind turbine things in the central and eastern Indiana fields would be a good idea. They are starting to be all over the place now. When I was driving the lanes and roads that I would write into The Evening Road I kept thinking about Don Quixote and wondering whether he would take his chances with one of them and just how he would go about doing it. Also, I listened, over and over again as I was driving, to "Poor Old Lance."

3) "Wang Wang Blues" by The Jungle Band — Early Ellington: The Complete Brunswick and Vocalion Recordings of Duke Ellington 1926-1931

There was a display up at the excellent public library in Marion, Indiana — which is the real-world antecedent for the fictional town of Marvel in The Evening Road — when I made one of my research visits, that spoke to the history of the African American residents of the area. The "Wang Wang Blues" was mentioned as being popular among young people in Marion and nearby Weaver (a small town that has since vanished) in the 1920s. I like Duke Ellington's version but they are all, almost a century out from the song's creation, pretty damn good.

4) "The Bells" by Xylouris White from Goats

My wife and I met up with Giorgos Xylouris, of the duo Xylouris White, at a baptism that happened down a long wooded lane on the terrace of a little white chapel overlooking the sea in Crete. The first thing Giorgos did when we saw him was show me a kazoo he had just made out of a stick and a piece of matted cobweb he had found under a rock. Not only did he show it to me, he had me lean in close and listen. If I had met him in time and heard him play that crazy little kazoo, I would have put it in the novel. It's there in spirit.

5) "He Is without His Guns" by Marisa Anderson from Into the Light

Take a careful listen here. This is someone who knows what she's doing. She knows it inside out.

6) "Chemirocha" by Kipsigis from Kenyan Songs and Strings 1950 & 1952

This beautiful, weird, wonderful song scared my 11-year-old daughter Eva when she first heard it. I play it all the time and listened to it repeatedly when I was working on the novel's many revisions. I expect one of these days soon Eva will put it on repeat too.

7) "Last Fair Deal Gone Down" by Robert Johnson from Harry Smith's Anthology of America Folk Music, Vol. 4 [Disc 1]

Let's make no mistake about the state of the world on that brutal night in 1930 in east central Indiana. And let's not forget. Robert Johnson's voice, singing about the Gulfport Island Road, is like a great, gravely bell.

8) "Dark Was the Night" by Blind Willie Johnson

The sun goes down and the world goes dark three times over the course of The Evening Road. This is the right song for each slow setting. This is the right song for any time. Out there on the road being human. And feeling alone.

Laird Hunt and The Evening Road links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry

Kirkus Reviews review
Publishers Weekly review

Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for The Exquisite
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Kind One
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Neverhome
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Ray of the Star

also at Largehearted Boy:

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