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May 4, 2017

Book Notes - Zoey Leigh Peterson "Next Year, for Sure"

Next Year, for Sure

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.

Zoey Leigh Peterson offers an impressive depiction of modern relationships in her compelling debut novel Next Year, for Sure.

Kirkus Reviews wrote of the book:

"Psychologically perceptive . . . Peterson's commitment to exploring the idea of monogamy is refreshingly attuned to the shifting power dynamics between two—then three—players. A crisp, exciting exploration of love, friendship, and everything in between. Peterson's one to watch."

In her own words, Zoey Leigh Peterson's Book Notes playlist for her debut novel Next Year, for Sure:

Next Year, for Sure is the story of Chris and Kathryn, a perfectly happy couple who find themselves inexplicably sad. All their friends are starting to disappear into careers or family, and new friendships seem suddenly hard to make. They're lonely. As much as they love each other, they're lonely and increasingly stuck.

So when Chris develops a crush on a woman he sees every week at the laundromat, Kathryn insists he should ask this Emily person out on a date. Just one date, just for fun, just to see what happens. What happens is that Chris and Kathryn stumble into an open relationship that is bigger than they'd imagined.

Music played a huge part in the writing of this novel. I'd sometimes listen to one song over and over for days and weeks while writing a chapter, and I used to joke that if someone ever made the book into a movie, I already had the soundtrack ready to go. So here it is, chapter by chapter, my dream soundtrack for Next Year, for Sure.

Chapter 1: "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" - Cowboy Junkies
I set out to write about loneliness. I figure, if you're suffering, you might as well make art about that suffering. Make the suffering gorgeous. That's what I wanted to do when I started the book—take the loneliness I was feeling and turn it into something gorgeous. Maybe it would mean something to someone, the way this song has meant something to me. I love the original Hank Williams' recording, but I want this one for the movie because it's the slowest, saddest version I know. If there is a slower, sadder, lonelier version of this song in the world, please someone send it my way.

Chapter 2: "Find Love" - Clem Snide
This song distills into one line the thing I've spent my whole life trying to learn: "Find love. Then give it all away." That kind of openheartedness is something Kathryn is struggling with, too. She's having this ongoing conversation with herself about how she wants to be in the world (selfless, generous) and how she often feels (possessive, grasping). If I could travel back in time and give teenaged me a mix tape, this would be the first song on it.

Chapter 3: "In Spite of All the Damage" - The Be Good Tanyas
When I was writing this chapter, I lived next to a park with a big oval running track. Whenever I would get stuck—which was often—I would put on my headphones and walk around and around the track while listening to this song on repeat. To me, it perfectly captures Chris, who is haunted by his exes and the various ways in which he feels he has wronged them. It strikes me as the most honest and complex expression of remorse I've ever heard in a song.

Chapter 4: "A Case of You" - Joni Mitchell
At one point in this chapter, Kathryn chastises herself for feeling petty and jealous about Chris's upcoming date, when she'd meant to be "cool and evolved, like a Joni Mitchell song." When I wrote that, I was thinking partly of "My Old Man" with its line about not needing some piece of paper from City Hall to prove you're in love, and partly of "Just Like This Train." There are so many others, too. But if I'm put in a position to choose just one Joni Mitchell song for all time, I will always choose "A Case of You."

Chapter 5: "You Will Love This Song" - Amber Rubarth
If I tried to quote my favorite part of this song I would end up quoting every single word. But there's this one line that feels so right for this chapter: "I like you a lot. And I think it's worse than that." There's something about that word worse right there (not "more than that" or "deeper than that", but "worse than that") that breaks my heart into a million pieces. Which is exactly what I want from a song.

Chapter 6: "Walk On By" - Isaac Hayes
I discovered two things about Kathryn while writing this chapter. One, she doesn't feel like she deserves joy when there is any deprivation in the world. (She keeps choosing the thing that no one else wants, so as not to feel bad about taking it for herself.) And two, she's kind of a badass. This song really marries those two qualities—the self-denying misery of the lyrics (don't worry about me, I'm just dying of a broken heart) combined with the ballsy swagger of that guitar riff. If I got to direct this hypothetical movie, I would make this scene twelve and a half minutes long so I could include every single note of that badass (and weird-ass) guitar solo as Kathryn stalks around the city all night.

Chapter 7: "Bag of Hammers" - Thao & the Get Down Stay Down
I don't think I listened to this song as I was wrote this chapter, but in retrospect it feels like a spooky-good fit. I'm not going to ruin it by spelling it all out. Nope, not going to.

Chapter 8: "We're So Cool" - Au Pairs
Okay, enough sad songs. Let's dance around. This is the one and only song I know that celebrates (or even acknowledges the possibility of) open, consensual, non-monogamous relationships. Admittedly, it's not a perfect fit for this story; it seems to be talking about dalliances and one-night stands rather than ongoing committed relationships with multiple partners. But still, it has to be in the soundtrack somewhere, and I'm putting in this chapter for the poly-affirming chant of "things are cool between us / things are cool between us / things are cool between us / things are so…"

Chapter 9: "His Eye Is On The Sparrow" - Preservation Hall Jazz Band
This song—and specifically this version of this song—has come to mean so much to me that I actually wrote it into this chapter. When the harmonies collide at 1:51, when the tuba and the banjo go for a stroll at 2:38, I die of joy.

Chapter 10: "Done" - Frazey Ford
This is one of the most glorious kiss-off songs since Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive." And I love that it isn't limited to romantic betrayal the way so many break-up songs are. No, this is a song you could play as you drive away from your toxic parent or your former best friend, never to look back. And it's not even vindictive. It's not, I hope you spend the rest of your life alone and miserable. It's just, Look, I'm done with this. I'm sorry you're a miserable wretch, but my happiness doesn't take anything away from you. But with a horn section.

Chapter 11: "Claustrofobia" - Martinho Da Silva
Emily, the crush, is a bit of mystery. We never get to see the world through her eyes, so I was always having to piece her together from little clues. One of the first things I discovered about her was that she always puts on bossa nova when she gets home late at night. This turned into her love of Brazilian culture, and later an unspoken longing to someday move there. Anyway, I think Emily would like this song. I think she would like the way his voice deepens and creaks in the line para que prisões dentro de ti?, even if she doesn't realize what it means: Why keep prisons inside yourself?

Chapter 12: "Perfect Day" - Lou Reed
I really appreciate how prosaic the events in Lou Reed's perfect day are: Sat in a park, and later went home. The zoo, then home. It's the going home part that really gets me. I also love how none of these perfect days seem particularly planned out or deliberate. Sometimes the perfect day looks nothing like the one you thought you wanted.

Chapter 13: "Up Above My Head" - Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Chapter 13 is titled after a Methodist hymn, "Joyful, Joyful," which I grew up with and have always secretly despised. I tried to find a halfway palatable version to include here, but not even Lauryn Hill could make me like that song. I offer, instead, another song of praise that actually does fill me with joy—Sister Rosetta Tharpe (along with Marie Knight and the Sam Price Trio) singing "Up Above My Head, I Hear Music In The Air."

Chapter 14: "Trouble In Mind" - Lightnin' Hopkins
It was Nina Simone's version of "Trouble in Mind" that I listened to over and over while working on this book, but then I found this Lightnin' Hopkins recording, which is even slower and sadder. (You might notice a pattern. I want everything to be slower and sadder. Sometimes it's the only thing that makes me happy.)

Chapter 15: "Si Je Reste" - Bruno Blum
I first heard this song fifteen years ago on French-language radio. I knew it was a cover of "Should I Stay Or Should I Go" by The Clash, but that's all I knew. It took me years to figure out who recorded it, another decade to track down a copy. And now, here it is on Spotify, just sitting there. Anyway, I've been wanting to put this song in a movie soundtrack since the moment I first heard it.

Chapter 16: "Hot Knife" - Fiona Apple
I didn't have a song for this chapter, and I despaired of ever finding one that would work. I needed something that was incredibly sensual and sexy, but also truly geeky and weird. And I guess Fiona Apple heard my silent prayer, and was like, "Okay, here's a song about your lover being a hot knife that slides through your butter, but it's sung in loopy contrapuntal canon-like melodies and with just a solo timpani drum and no other instruments for most of the song. Is that sexy/nerdy/weird enough for you?" This song is like nothing I've ever heard. It makes my brain want to leap out of my body.

Chapter 17: "Famous Blue Raincoat" - Leonard Cohen
It is almost impossible find songs about romantic rivals that aren't pure jealousy and animosity and contempt. And certainly there are some of those sentiments in this song. But in between the stabs of jealousy, there is also a conciliatory kindness, and in the last verse, even gratitude. That line where he thanks his wife's lover for easing her troubles in a way that he himself has never been able to, that line could be a novel unto itself.

Chapter 18: "Love and Happiness" - Al Green
More than anyone, Al Green was my guiding light while writing Kathryn. I listened to his first few albums over and over for months. I could put almost any of his songs here, but this chapter takes place at a wedding, and what wedding reception is complete without "Love and Happiness" packing the dance floor with little kids and grandpas and your polyamorous partners?

Chapter 19: "Billie Jean" (Mister Vibes Remix)- Easy Star All-Stars
There's a character dancing to "Billie Jean" in this chapter. But I gotta say, I really don't want this to be the kind of movie that can afford the rights to "Billie Jean." I want it to be the kind of movie that features this exquisitely dubbed-out remix of a reggae cover of "Billie Jean."

Chapter 20: "Vertebrae" - Christine Fellows
I almost hate to intrude on this song. It's so perfect and self-contained. But I kept playing it over and over while writing this chapter, partly for that closing refrain: "Why, when you know you should go, is it so hard to leave?"

Chapter 21: "I've Been Loving You Too Long" - Otis Redding
Oh man, this song. This performance. I'm going to shut up and just let you listen.

Zoey Leigh Peterson and Next Year, for Sure links:

the author's website

Globe and Mail review
Kirkus Reviews review
Quill & Quire review
Toronto Star review
Vancouver Sun profile of the author

49th Shelf interview with the author
Canadian Living interview with the author
CBC essay by the author
Georgia Straight profile of the author
Powell's interview with the author
Quill & Quire profile of the author
Vol. 1 Brooklyn interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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