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March 14, 2017

Book Notes - Susan Perabo "The Fall of Lisa Bellow"

Ill Will

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.

Susan Perabo's novel The Fall of Lisa Bellow is a suspenseful exploration of a family's resilience in the aftermath of a tragedy.

Kirkus Reviews wrote of the book:

"A daring narrative strategy...You will hate to leave the inside of this woman's head when you finish the book. The texture of family life as it unravels, then begins to regenerate, is conveyed with unflinching clarity and redemptive good humor."

In her own words, here is Susan Perabo's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel The Fall of Lisa Bellow:

I listen almost exclusively to soundtracks when I write, because I don’t like hearing words when I’m writing words. Usually I have a friendly competition, a soundtrack-off, as I begin a story or novel, rotating through a number of favorites to see which ones seem to best fit the mood of the current project. Most of the time I wind up with a few winners, which then alternate over the duration of the piece of writing. But by the time I was on Chapter 3 of The Fall of Lisa Bellow, I knew without a doubt that there one only one soundtrack for this novel, and it was James Horner’s A Beautiful Mind. I have never relied more on a single musical work than I did on this one. Every time I hit play, it was like being dropped into a dark, gaping hole which led directly, and I do mean directly, into the world of my novel.

I wrote the first draft of Lisa Bellow all over England. Until that time in my writing life, I had been unable to write anywhere but at my own desk in my own home. But my role as a study abroad program director, not to mention a busy parent, necessitated that I become someone who could write in places besides my cocoon-y comfort zone. It was A Beautiful Mind that allowed me to do this. As long as I had my headphones, I could transport myself into the novel almost instantly. It got to the point where literally 30 seconds into the first track, I was all in, banging away on my laptop. It didn’t matter where I was. For the first time in my life, I wrote in coffee shops, lobbies, waiting rooms, hotels. I wrote inside and outside, on buses, trains, boats, and planes. I wrote with that music drowning out everything, surrounding me, wrapping me up in the dream of the novel. I was often so deeply immersed in the book that if one of my children or one of my students tapped me on the shoulder I would, for a moment, have absolutely no idea where I was.

It’s fitting that A Beautiful Mind is the soundtrack for this book. Although I did not consciously choose something that was a thematic fit, the similarities between my novel and the Ron Howard film are substantial. In what ways do we rely on imagination to give ourselves solace? What is the danger of that solace? When it comes to escaping into our imagined worlds, how deep is too deep? There is a single vocal track in the work, the haunting “All Love Can Be,” and it quickly came to represent the relationship between the girls, Meredith and Lisa. “I will watch you in the darkness,” and, more significantly, “I will guard you with my bright wings.” I knew that this was Meredith’s message to Lisa… and, paradoxically, Lisa’s message to Meredith. And maybe, really late in the game, it was my message to both of them. Some days when I heard it, it made me cry. Right there in the middle of London.

In writing this piece today, I turned on the soundtrack for the first time since completing the final revision of the novel, about six months ago. I listened for 30 seconds, and then I had to turn it off. I can’t quite explain why, but I felt extremely uncomfortable, like I had returned to a room where I wasn’t entirely sure I was welcome anymore. My time with those characters has passed; I am no longer part of their lives. It was a sad an unexpected moment, the realization that I do not truly belong with them, nor they with me. How deep is too deep? My characters eventually found out. Perhaps, now, they are trying to explain it to me.

Susan Perabo and The Fall of Lisa Bellow links:

excerpt from the audiobook

Brooklyn Rail review
Fort Worth Star-Telegram review
Kirkus Reviews review
Publishers Weekly review
St. Louis Post Dispatch review

also at Largehearted Boy:

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