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October 16, 2017

Book Notes - Pamela Ryder "Paradise Field"

Paradise Field

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.

Pamela Ryder's Paradise Field is an exceptionally moving novel in stories inspired by her relationship with her father.

Foreword Reviews wrote of the book:

"Pamela Ryder's Paradise Field is a novel in stories that stands out for the variety of structures, voices, and styles employed throughout. Paradise Field is a strong whole made of fascinating parts."


In her own words, here is Pamela Ryder's Book Notes music playlist for her novel Paradise Field:



I came to write Paradise Field after my father's death. And it became our story: the last years of a WWII pilot and the adult daughter who cares for him, and her ineptitude, resentments, recollections: his flight from the family; his descent into frailty; the indignities surrounding his demise. Even the unfathomable notion of approaching death does not fully bridge the rift between father and daughter, though both are transformed as they approach the pit. Here, story by story, is the music of the journey they made—father and daughter—in their attempts to keep the inevitable at bay.

"Interment for Yard & Garden: A Practical Guide"
This opening story begins as a handbook for Jewish burial and bereavement, but the narrator cannot avoid revealing herself, her motives, or her memories. And the directives of the text appear to be that of Jewish custom and law, but these instructions for the interment weave magic and myth into the ritual. The shovel is selected, the grave site is determined, the hole is dug. Music softly plays throughout the task, and then at full volume as the last shovelful of earth is flung down, night falls, and the evening watch begins: "The Weight" written Robbie Roberson, and sung by The Band: I pulled into Nazareth, was feeling 'bout half past dead. I just need some place where I can lay my head. Hey, mister, can you tell me, where a man might find a bed? He just grinned and shook my hand, "No" was all he said.

"The Renoir is Put Straight"
Ah. The family vacation in France. The glories of the food, the insolence of the waiters, the forest walk in search of champignons. Sun shifts though the leaves, light spatters the path. A warbler peeps from a bough. A snake is bludgeoned. And the music that weaves through the dining room and the wood: "The Poor People of Paris" by Marguerite Monnot, an uplifting instrumental, and counterpoint to the ghastly murder of the snake—the "ribbon of grace in the water". And finally, the music of the closing dinner, featuring the medallions of veal and tarragon potatoes that everyone likes: the heroic ballad composed by Charles Dumont, with lyrics by Michel Vaucaire, and sung by the French chanteuse, Edith Piaf. "Non, je ne regrette rien" (No, I regret nothing). Neither the good that was done to me, nor the bad.

"The Song Inside the Plate"
Here, the grotesqueries of the diner table. The lamb sits in the oven. The radio plays. The monkey languishes on his chain. The father persecutes. The children quake. As the father kicks the cat, the body of the lamb is toted to the table, to be sliced and doused with the gravy boat of its blood. And Kitty Carlisle sings her closing song as she does through every dinnertime broadcast. "Bless This House", by May Brahe with lyrics by Helen Taylor. Bless this house O Lord we pray. Keep it safe by night and day. Bless these walls so firm and stout, keeping strife and trouble out.

"As Those Who Know the Dead Will Do"
The daughter takes the father on a final trip to where there would be canyons, where she "had once walked in her younger years, had traveled those vast regions of sage and mesa cleft with chasms of stone and the rivers of their incision—and now wanting the father to see—while there was still time, while there was still breath and sense and flow through those most turbulent of tributaries within his fisted heart." And so, they take to the road. The music here reflects the pace of the traveling, the desperate rushing on. "Viva la Vida", by Coldplay, with its sweeping instrumentals and lyrics: I hear Jerusalem bells a ringing. Roman cavalry choirs singing….For some reason I can't explain I know Saint Peter won't call my name…

"Arrow Canyon"
The setting is a remote motel in the desert. The narrator is a chambermaid, observing the father and daughter, while telling her own tale of loss. The music is "A Thousand Miles From Nowhere" by Dwight Yoakam, a mournful but fast-moving tune: I'm a thousand miles from nowhere. Time don't matter to me. ‘Cause I'm a thousand miles from nowhere and there's no place I want to be.

"Somewhere in the North Atlantic"
The father is confined to his living room, trapped in his railed and rented bed, as a night of storms and dreams slip by and flocks of geese sail up river. The music is "Helpless" by Neil Young: Blue, blue windows behind the stars, yellow moon on the rise. Big birds flying across the sky, throwing shadows on our eyes, leave us helpless, helpless. Helpless.

"Two Things"
The daughter asks her sister to pick up a few items she needs for their dying father's care—and it goes ridiculously wrong. All to the sound of "Stayin' Alive" by the Bee Gees (Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb): Whether you're a brother or whether you're a mother, you're staying alive, staying alive. Feel the city breaking and everybody shaking, people staying alive, staying alive.

"Mitzvah"
The father as patient, finally hospitalized. The hospital staff: infuriating, uncaring, incompetent. But there is another patient, and this one is wandering the corridors – Gabriel Hirshbine, old Jew at large, and largely unnoticed as he snoops about and contrives small acts of kindness. A song plays though the hospital's overhead paging system: "Calling all Angels" by the rock band "Train", and its haunting chorus rises as Gabriel Hirshbine lights his cigar and the Shabbos candle at dusk. Calling all angels. Calling all angels. Walk me through this world…don't leave me alone.

"Recognizable Constellations and Familiar Objects of the Night Sky in Early Spring"
The story moves between two histories: a childhood trip to the planetarium, where the child leans in to touch the meteorite on display. And a midnight phone call from the nursing home administrator, informing the daughter that the father has escaped somehow, and is lost amidst the stars. The music is "Southern Cross" by Stephen Sills, Richard Curtis, and Michael Curtis, and sung by Crosby, Stills & Nash: When you see the Southern Cross for the first time, you understand why you came this way. Cause the truth you might be runnin' from is so small. But it's as big as the promise, the promise of a comin' day.

"Jerusalem"
The father drifts between the cockpit of his bomber plane and the confines of his bed, in flight from oblivion. The song is that fine old hymn "Jerusalem"—William Blake's poem set to music by Sir Hubert Parry. I will not cease from mental fight, nor shall my sword sleep in my hand: till we have built Jerusalem in England's green and pleasant land.

"Details of Grief"
The daughter selects the coffin. Choices must be made as to expense and type of wood. The purveyor of boxes pushes the oak. The daughter runs her hands over the polished lid. The music is Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah": Now I've heard there was a secret chord that David played, and it pleased the Lord. But you don't really care for music, do you?…The baffled king composing Hallelujah.

"In Other Hemispheres"
The hearse makes its way to the cemetery where the father will be buried, and he speaks to the daughter throughout the ride. In that final view of the world passing by, the ordinary is made luminous, the mundane becomes precious. A leaf floats along the gutter, a crumpled paper rolls down the road, a bird sits on a bough. The music is "The Waters of March" by Antonio Carlos Jobim: A stick, a stone. It's the end of the road. It's the rest of stump. It's a little alone. The father continues to speak even as he is lowered into the hole, and as the shovelfuls of earth are flung. His voice becomes muffled as the soil rains down, and as the daughter, unhearing, walks away from the grave, we hear "100 Years" by Five for Fighting: I'm 99 for a moment, and dying for just another moment…there's never a wish better than this, when you only got a hundred years to live.


Pamela Ryder and Paradise Field links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry
excerpt from the book
excerpt from the book
excerpt from the book

Foreword Reviews review

Brooklyn Rail 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

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