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September 5, 2017

Book Notes - Rene Denfeld "The Child Finder"

The Child Finder

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.

Rene Denfeld's second novel The Child Finder is a haunting book that brilliantly melds real life with fairy tales.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"Intense.... Innovative... Heartbreaking, surprising.... The conclusion will leave readers breathless."

In her own words, here is Rene Denfeld's Book Notes music playlist for her novel The Child Finder:

As a writer, I either work in absolute silence or drenched in noise. Certain musicians or songs will demand to be played on repeat, until they form a background mosaic of feeling. And then, I need respite. I turn off the music and begin to write even more. In this way writing can feel to me both like the songs and the spaces between the notes.

The Child Finder is based on my life experiences as a child of trauma, my day job as a licensed investigator, and my twenty years of experience as a foster-adoptive mother. The novel tells the story of a little lost girl and the woman trying to find her. Writing the book was intensely personal. It felt like a love song of my own, written with hope for anyone who has felt trapped, who is afraid, and needs rescue.

I've had a full life, including a stint as a homeless kid, which led to me becoming a singer for a punk band when I was sixteen. Our claim to fame was opening for Black Flag. Later I sang for another band that opened for Nirvana. That's as much as I'll say about my own efforts at being a musician. Some things are better left unheard. Let's just say I'm a much better writer than singer. But despite my lack of musical talent, music has informed my life, like so many others, forming a soundtrack that beats like a heart behind my writing.

And with that I will probably offer the most eclectic, bizarre list largehearted boy has ever read:

Sirena, by Cousteau

Oh, how I love this album. Yes, its thick and melodramatic at times—the band members termed their music "sleazy listening." But the songs drill right to my soul, and as a background to writing they lift and plateau. This is perfect mood music, melancholy and rich with yearning. I can't get enough of songs like "Talking to Myself" and "(Damn These) Hungry Times." Until I can, and I turn it off and write some more, like always.

Talking Book, by Stevie Wonder

I think our favorite music is nine parts nostalgia, one part rationality. Or maybe even less rationality. This is why music critics get it wrong so often. It's hard to have standards when the point of music is to tug at the emotions, and the script of our lives is often the background of radio hum. We associate certain songs to certain times, and for me childhood is perched on a dirty orange shag carpet, listing to Talking Book by Stevie Wonder and dreaming of the day someone would love me. You can't match Stevie as a vocalist.

"Rise to the Skin," song by Alice Donut

Here's a single song for you. I loved Alice Donut in my later punk rock days, and while most their songs don't relate to me anymore (not that they wouldn't call to another, it's all good) this one has stood the test of time.

13 Songs, by Fugazi

What can you say about Fugazi? Turn it loud until the sound wipes out the walls. Remember the time you saw them in concert, ridiculous black marker straight edges on your hands, dancing until you were a sordid, sweaty mess. Then hear the delicacy under the music, the bright, arching branches of songs like "Waiting Room" and "Bad Mouth."

Feel the Darkness, by Poison Idea

I'm longtime friends with Jerry A, and have had the honor of having a spoken word piece included on a compilation he recently put out called Portland, with great bands like The Eyelids, the Pinnacles, and, of course, Poison Idea. But even if we didn't go way back I'd still consider Poison Idea the kings of punk. Because they are. There is an utter lack of pretense behind these ripping songs. RIP Pig Champion.

Pretty Close to the Truth, by Jim Lauderdale

Didn't see that coming, did you? From punk to this near-perfect record by a man commonly misunderstood as a country musician. Don't let that stop you. Songs like "This is the Big Time" and "I'm On Your Side" defy all genre—just like good literature. Jim Lauderdale is a genius. There were times writing The Child Finder I put this album on repeat and went to sleep listening to it. The next morning I always felt both light and deeper, which is the right way to start writing.

"Good to Your Earhole," by Funkadelic

Sometimes you just have to take a break from writing, and what a better way than to play some Funkadelic? They can only promise to be good to your earhole. I have a number of songs like this one that both bring back childhood memories and provide opportunity to spazz around my house, dancing like a fool. Like my punk rock singing, some things are better left unseen, and my dancing fits that category.

"Stayin' Alive," by the Bee Gees

The bridge. That is all I can say about this song. The bridge. It comes in like a haunting, changing the entire feeling of what initially seems like a silly disco song. I like to use this as an example in teaching writing that sometimes all it takes is one little twist and the meaning of a work can change. Life going nowhere, somebody help me has to be one of the most poignant lines to ever rise from a disco song.

Rene Denfeld and The Child Finder links:

the author's website
video trailer for the novel

BookPage review
Publishers Weekly review

Female First essay by the author
The Rumpus interview with the author

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

Largehearted Boy's 2017 Summer Reading Suggestions

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