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November 2, 2017

Book Notes - Christopher Irvin "Ragged"


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.

Christopher Irvin's Ragged is a smart and original literary crime novel.

Paul Tremblay wrote of the book:

"Ragged is a vivid fever dream, mixing Roald Dahl, Wes Anderson, Watership Down, and Jim Thompson. As impressive and convincing the world Irvin creates is, the real triumph is how his society of anthropomorphized beasties are more human than human."

In his own words, here is Christopher Irvin's Book Notes music playlist for his novel Ragged:

Ragged; or, The Loveliest Lies of All is an adult tale of anthropomorphic animals (think Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Wind in the Willows meets Fargo.) The story centers on a motley community in a New England woods, where Cal, a dog with a checkered past, must protect his family while investigating a mysterious disease that threatens to consume all he holds dear.

Music has had a big influence on my writing. I'm a huge fan of film soundtracks, and while I don't actively listen to music will writing, I often carry what I listen to elsewhere back with me to the page. For this playlist, I've gone back through the music that carried me through the writing of Ragged. These songs get at the heart of Ragged - a dark, melancholic tale of a father's struggle and a community in crisis - as well as specific scenes in the book. I hope you enjoy and give this dark, wondrous world a read.

Alexandre Desplat: Fantastic Mr. Fox: "Canis Lupus"

The film version of Fantastic Mr. Fox is a big inspiration for Ragged. The moment when Mr. Fox finally encounters the wolf is one of my favorite scenes. There is a strange, quiet beauty to it - where Mr. Fox, having previously announced a phobia of wolves, connects with the mysterious, wild creature. I think this piece sets the tone for the beginning of the novel, where we meet Winifred, Cal's wife, who's consumed with worry.

Emily Haines & The Soft Skeletons: "Minefield of Memory"

I listened to a lot of Metric over the past year. I made a playlist of their lesser known songs after my wife and I saw them live in Boston, and a year later I'm still hooked. While Metric's electronic sound doesn't totally jive with the setting of Ragged, their lead singer's solo project, Emily Haines & The Soft Skeletons, certainly does. As the novel opens, Cal finds himself with a lot on his mind. To say there is trouble afoot would put it mildly - he's completely distraught and wrapped in his memories while torn as to what to do next. I think "Minefield of Memory" captures this well.

Fleet Foxes: "Helplessness Blues"

The title says it all. I find Fleet Foxes's dark, folk sound to be a perfect fit for the Woofs of Ragged and the initial crisis, a mysterious death, that drives the novel.

Alexandre Desplat: Moonrise Kingdom: "The Heroic Weather-Conditions of the Universe Part 1"

Desplat's work on Wes Anderson's films has so many wonderful layers. For each film he scores, Desplat's work contains recurring themes that grow and morph and build over time. This track is an excellent example, and I hear it playing while Cal and the adult citizens of the Woods gather their children and walk them to school.

The Blasting Company: Over the Garden Wall: "Money for School"

The woods in Over the Garden Wall was one of several inspirations for the setting in Ragged. Over the Garden Wall is an animated mini-series that follows two brothers who become lost on a fantastical journey. At one point, the brothers stumble on a small school house in the middle of the woods, where a woman is trying to teach animals as if they were human children. This school house is also similar to what I imagine the one-room school house in RAGGED to look like - with Nut Brown, the stern squirrel, welcoming her students.

Bruno Coulais: Coraline: "Fantastic Gardner"

I have two young boys (who Cal's pups, Gus and Franklin, are very much modeled after.) One of our favorite films is Coraline. It sports a wonderfully quirky and dark soundtrack, and I imagine Gus and Franklin, Cal's young pups, fleeing the school and running through the Woods to the clearing at the edge of the river to this song.

The Decemberists: "Shankill Butchers"

The Decemberists are a perfect fit for the world of Ragged. The Shankill Butchers is a fun one that has always stuck with me - like a creepy tale you'd scare your children with to keep them from venturing into the woods - or in the case of Ragged, the Fells.

"The Shankill Butchers ride tonight. You better shut your windows tight. They're sharpening their cleavers and their knives. And taking all their whiskey by the pint."

In the Fells, across the river from the Woods, live the vermin of the Rubbish Heap, lead by a raccoon named Maurice. The Rubbish Heap Gang poach animals who cross through their territory, selling off the meat, skin and bones to those beyond the Woods. The Shankill Butchers and the Rubbish Heap Gang are two of a kind.

Metric: "Strange Weather" (Tom Waits cover)

Did I say Metric's sound didn't fit with Ragged? Scratch that. Their wonderful acoustic cover of Tom Wait's Strange Weather describes the state of the Woods as the society rests on the brink of disaster.

Alexander Desplat: Fantastic Mr. Fox: "Boggis, Bunce, and Bean"

One more time for Desplat and Fantastic Mr. Fox! The film's soundtrack in its entirety is much more vibrant and pop than suits the world of RAGGED (it's a children's novel/film after all) but Boggis, Bunce, and Bean is a favorite with a sound that is in line with the dark, dry humor in RAGGED - especially when several characters bad together on a mission.

Lang Lang: The Painted Veil: "River Waltz"

The piece has stuck with me since I saw The Painted Veil over a decade ago. It's a lovely way to cap off the novel and its final scene - full of longing and melancholy, but with a glimmer of hope.

Christopher Irvin and Ragged links:

the author's website

Craft review
Unlawful Acts review

Do Some Damage 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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