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August 28, 2017

Book Notes - Sara Taylor "The Lauras"

The Lauras

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.

Sara Taylor's The Lauras is one of the year's most moving and eloquent novels.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

"Alex's ambiguous, aching forays into the realms of sexuality and human relations speak to universal truths about trust as well as lust… Taylor gives her narrator a singular voice and dares the world to listen."

In her own words, here is Sara Taylor's Book Notes music playlist for her novel The Lauras:

Alex’s parents have fought nearly every night of the thirteen years that Alex has been alive. The Lauras begins on the night of the final fight, when Alex’s mother decides, in the middle of the argument, that she’s leaving, and that she’s taking Alex with her. As they wander across America, revisiting the places Ma lived when she was a child in foster care and keeping promises she’d made as a teenager on the run, Alex learns the stories that make up Ma’s past. But all roads end, and no one stays thirteen forever: when Ma finds what she’s been looking for since before Alex was born, Alex has to decide whether this new life is worth forgetting about the father they left behind, or to follow in Ma’s footsteps and answer the call of the open road.

“50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” – Simon and Garfunkel, The Concert in Central Park
Though ‘walking out the front door in the middle of the night with your teenager and your documents’ isn’t one of the ways of leaving listed, the song is one of the things that drifts through Ma’s head as she’s driving away. She has almost left several times before, has kept a backpack with both of their birth certificates, her green card, and a horde of cash in the coat closet behind the shoes for years. But like the singer, who is being encouraged by a nameless ‘she’ to leave his lover, it’s not until a certain woman gives her a reason that she finally walks out for good.

“Appalachian Spring: Coda” – Aaron Copeland
The first place they stop is in a mountain village near the West Virginia border, where Ma takes work as a waitress. As spring turns to summer Alex settles into this new, quiet, solitary way of living. This part of their journey doesn’t have much music within it, but the sense of the mountains themselves is held in Copeland’s piece.

“My Give A Damn’s Busted” – Jo Dee Messina
When the police turn up at the truck stop where Ma waitresses they pack up and leave in a hurry, and as they drive through the night to the last place she figures anyone would look for her – Florida – the radio plays. When songs come on that Ma doesn’t like she switches it off, tells stories about her life before or pussyfoots around Alex’s questions about why she can’t patch up her relationship with Alex’s father. This song so epitomizes her mood at the time that, when it came on, she turned it up louder.

“Hammer to Fall” – Queen
Their arrival in Florida coincides with Alex’s first miserable encounter with puberty. The next nine months are spent earning enough cash to get them through the rest of their journey, in Ma’s case, and making bad decisions, struggling with sexual awakening, and generally being sulky, in Alex’s. “Hammer to Fall” is one of the songs that Alex plays on repeat while laying on the floor of the apartment, trying to do homework but mostly fantasizing about schoolmates.

“Fire of God, Undying Flame” – traditional hymn
The couple who owned the house in Georgia were staunch Baptists, and while Ma was living there church attendance several times a week was mandatory. It wasn’t a pleasant time in her life, and even as an adult she feels anxious whenever she hears the hymns that she learned while living there. Still, she would have found herself humming the songs under her breath as she sorted through the house.

“Lawyers, Guns and Money” – Warren Zevon
After recovering from the encounter with the club owner in Michigan, Alex would have asked what music Ma danced to when she’d worked there. Not quite satisfied by “whatever they put on,” the next question would have been, “If you went back to table dancing, what song would you pick?” Ma’s answer, “Lawyers, Guns and Money,” was probably not meant to be taken seriously, and was more inspired by the way she freed herself from that chapter of her past than the sort of music that makes her want to dance.

“Separate Ways” – Journey
“Separate Ways” came out the summer that Ma lived in Mississippi and worked with Tony and Marisol on the water. It played on the radio the night they went to watch the meteor shower, and it’s the song that Marisol’s letter to Tony references. Because of that, Ma can’t listen to it any more. She prefers to associate Nanci Griffith’s “Gulf Coast Highway” with her time in Mississippi, even though she first heard the song only after that summer had ended.

“Free and Easy” – Dierks Bently
“Free and Easy” came out the summer during which most of the driving in The Lauras takes place, and it would have played on the radio over and over again as they crossed Texas. It has the sound of the sort of music that Ma likes to listen to while she drives, because it lets her feel like she’s really an American, instead of pretending to be one. It also pretty well sums up their approach to travel.

“The Times They Are A Changing” – Bob Dylan
After Annie joins them in the car music choices are quite limited, partially out of respect for her sensibilities, partially because Ma worries that if they shock her too much too quickly she’ll give up on running away. Rock is of the Devil, and between the drinking and the infidelity they couldn’t listen to country. There were a handful of old cassettes in the glove box, and after a cursory listen-through it’s decided that Dylan is acceptable to all. Alex would have found a quiet but perverse enjoyment in the lyrics.

“If You’re Going Through Hell” – Rodney Atkins
The time that Ma and Alex spend in Reno isn’t particularly pleasant for Alex. Schoolmates begin to question Alex’s gender presentation, or rather, lack of one, and Ma’s wanderlust begins to show signs of being a genetic trait. Ma isn’t particularly good at offering comfort, so after the attack that led to Alex schooling from home for the rest of the year she would have found other, not so subtle ways to telegraph encouragement to her offspring.

“Dude (Looks Like A Lady)” – Aerosmith
After being freed from the daily confinement of school Alex finds work at a number of bars and clubs; the most notable of these is called Cojones, which is known for its drag shows. Alex develops an odd, semi-romantic relationship with one of the performers, a young man named Simon who does a burlesque routine to this song under the stage name Ina Propriate. I imagine that, even years later, hearing the song makes Alex’s heart beat faster.

“Lullaby in Blue” – Ann Hampton Callaway/ “Every Breath You Take” – The Police
Ma and Alex spend a few days in California, following a young woman around while Ma tries to work up the courage to speak to her and Alex wonders what exactly they’re doing. If you asked Ma what song went with this part of their journey she would say “Lullaby in Blue;” why she associates the song with that woman is clear from Ma’s explanation of who she is and why they’re following her. Even knowing the reason, Alex would argue that the only song that really fits is “Every Breath You Take,” and that what they were doing was seriously skeezy. They’re probably both right to a degree.

“The Wind” – Cat Stevens
To me, this song is about transcending one’s past and ignoring outside influences in order to find peace, and pretty accurately describes Ma’s journey through the book to put her history to bed and find the person that she shouldn’t have let go in the first place. It’s a quiet, simple song that gives a sense of closure after everything they’ve been through to get to that point.

“Metamorphosis 2” – Philip Glass
Even though Ma’s story concludes with the last chapter, Alex’s doesn’t. The epilogue asks the question of who Alex will become as a result of the journey the two of them have made, whether it is possible after that to go back to the life that was left behind when they walked out in the middle of the night three years before. “Metamorphosis” evokes a sense of the continuous motion that has characterized their life together since that night, while the half-mournful, half-hopeful sound fits the way Alex feels about this phase of life.

Sara Taylor and The Lauras links:

excerpt from the book

Guardian review
Kirkus review
Observer review
Publishers Weekly review
Scotsman review

Irish Times essay by the author
Metro Toronto profile of the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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