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July 24, 2017

Book Notes - David Williams "When the English Fall"

When the English Fall

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.

David Williams' post-apocalyptic novel When the English Fall is a fascinating and thought-provoking debut.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

"A standout among post-apocalyptic novels, as simply and perfectly crafted as an Amish quilt or table. Lyrical and weirdly believable."


In his own words, here is David Williams's Book Notes music playlist for his debut novel When the English Fall:



Much of what I listen to when I write is wordless. What I want is something that evokes tone and mood, without lyrics that fuddle and complicate the words that my muse is trying to whisper in my ear. When not writing, there are always musical influences that help fertilize those fallow times.

The Last of Us, Gustavo Santaollala.

When I was writing the first draft of When the English Fall, I was also playing through The Last of Us on my PS3. It’s a brilliant, brilliant game, an interactive post-apocalyptic tale that stands with the best that film and literature have to offer. Great writing, moving and authentic voice-acting, and one of the most simultaneously brutal and human stories ever to grace that form of media. With Portal 2, Homeworld, and Fallout 3, it’s gaming at its pinnacle as narrative art form.

The theme Gustavo Santaollala created for the game’s soundtrack, spare and haunting and anxious, was precisely the mind-feel I wanted for what I was writing.

Dead Man, Neil Young

I’ve been a fan of Jarmusch for a while, pretty much since I watched Dead Man back as a young ‘un. Heck of a movie, and I’d argue it stands with Only Lovers Left Alive as perhaps the best of his work. Well, after Down By Law, of course.

Neil Young’s gritty, evocative soundtrack for that film was a regular part of my writing-music rotation for the book.

It’s quiet, but with an underlying harshness that speaks to the presence of unmanifested violence. It’s the sound of dryness and subtle threat, which was, again, precisely the feel I was seeking in my writing.

Beethoven’s 7th Symphony, Second Movement

Oh my brothers and sisters, do I love me some Ludvig Van. And this movement of this symphony in particular, as the rising wave of the central motif gathers and builds. There’s a sadness and an inevitability to it, coupled with Beethoven’s fierce Teutonic nobility. I’d listen, and listen again, and then write.

"Down in the Willow Garden"

This song also makes an appearance in the book, as Jacob (the protagonist) and his daughter will hum a tune whose words they have forgotten. It’s an old classic Everly Brothers classic, a story in song, paradoxically brutal and sweetly harmonic, a song of death and violence and loss.

"Softly and Tenderly (Jesus is Calling)"

There’s this brilliant scene in the movie Junebug, where the erudite urban protagonist suddenly realizes that her new beau hails from a very different world, where faith is woven up into the life of a community with strange and compelling harmonies. Given the central role of faith in the book, and the tension between that faith and a world that was alien to it, this one would often play through my earbuds as I walked and struggled through where the story was going next. There’s the version from the film, of course, but also countless other renditions of a wonderful old gospel standard.

"Sorcerer’s Apprentice,"Dukas

As a meditation on the hubris of human technological dependence, there ain’t nothin’ to beat this admittedly familiar bit of classical music. It surfaces in the book, as the Amish narrator reflects on having watched that sequence of Disney’s Fantasia during his rumspringa. Cute hat-wearing cartoon mice notwithstanding, it’s a pretty intense piece, one that played well thematically with the book.

"Easy’s Gettin' Harder Every Day," Iris DeMent

Though I’m alone in my household on this, I absolutely love Iris DeMent. The sharpness of her twang. The deep sorrow of so much of her music. This particular song just hits me hard. It speaks to the strange hopelessness of so much of contemporary life, that rust-belt postindustrial era ennui that feeds our hunger for apocalyptic tales, as part of us wishes something big and inescapable would come along and sweep the patterns of our empty lives away.


David Williams and When the English Fall links:

the author's website

Kirkus review
Minneapolis Star Tribune review
Newsday review
Publishers Weekly review


also at Largehearted Boy:

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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

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