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January 12, 2018

Book Notes - Thomas Pierce "The Afterlives"

The Afterlives

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.

Thomas Pierce's debut novel The Afterlives is an impressive literary ghost story.

Library Journal wrote of the book:

"Pierce has a gift for probing the limits of the psychic realm to uncover the benevolence that manifests from metaphysical insight. Truly remarkable."

In his own words, here is Thomas Pierce's Book Notes music playlist for his debut novel The Afterlives:

The Afterlives Mixtape:

Songs full of love & longing & lovely ghosts & ghostly love & the fear of love’s loss & that feeling of gratefulness that sweeps over you when you meet someone who makes your heart beat just a little bit faster.

John Lennon, “Out the Blue”

Impossible to say how many times I listened to this song while writing the book. I love it. The story of John & Yoko--as told via his & her music--is pretty much my favorite love story. I almost used a lyric as an epigraph: Like a UFO you came to me and blew away life’s misery. Really, what’s love if not an unidentified flying object?

Flatt & Scruggs, “Til the End of the World Rolls Round”

A foot-stompin,’ heart-thumpin’ declaration of love that’s conditional, of course, on the earth’s continued existence.

Bjork, “Alarm Call”

Dangerous levels of damn-it-all-joyfulness and exuberance here.

Neko Case, “Buckets of Rain”

I think Neko Case is maybe one of best lyricists alive, and so I feel a little sheepish including her here with a cover song. But as far as I’m concerned, this Bob Dylan tune now belongs to her. Life is sad, life is a bust, all you can do is do what you must. You do what you must do and you do it well. I’ll do it for you, honey baby, can’t you tell?

Paul Bonneau, “Preambule no. 37”

You’re on an old staircase, and a sad-eyed woman passes you going in the opposite direction. When you turn, she’s gone.

Kevin Ayers, “Oh! Wot a Dream”

So my understanding is that Kevin Ayers wrote this song about his friend, Syd Barrett. It’s a pleasant if silly tune. The offer of the “one and only sandwich” to a friend on an afternoon biking trip is so quotidian and offbeat but also so kind-hearted and perfect. Sometimes love isn’t mountain-top grand; it’s just giving up the last spoonful of honey.

Shintaro Sakamoto, “In a Phantom Mood”

I was listening to this song quite a bit in the early days of writing the book. I don’t speak Japanese and had no idea what the lyrics meant until about ten minutes ago when I Googled it. Lo and behold, the chorus resonates with one of the book’s central premises--that we only partly exist, that we are at any given moment both here and not here: Well then, where do I go? Who do I become? In a phantom mood. Well, then, what do I do? Who do I become? With a transparent body.

Loudon Wainwright III, “New Paint”

Whooo I love this song. It’s so sweet--or wait, is it? Quite possibly our narrator is an old dude pining for the glory days, delivering a series of instructions to his younger self on how to behave and treat a beautiful young companion. Somehow love has slipped by him, and he’s wishing he could do it all over again. After all, a woman that kind is hard to find. This is how my narrator Jim feels, I think, when he sees Annie for the first time in years. Life has given him something it almost never does: a do-over.

Gillian Welch, “Paper Wings”

A slow-dance for ghosts. And that guitar solo! Ethereal, lost, a night-drive.

Louis Jordan & His Tympany 5, “Jack, You’re Dead”

If you don’t respond to romance… Jack, you’re dead.

Fleetwood Mac, “Over & Over”

I confess that I’m sort of a latecomer to Fleetwood Mac. You might even say I was a bit of a naysayer. But then I listened to Tusk and was converted. By this song, especially.

Dolly Parton, “The Only Hand You’ll Need to Hold”

Dolly. Enough said.

Alain Goraguer, “Ten Et Tiwa”

A physicist claims she’s built a machine that connects the living and the dead, but your every attempt to track her down is unsuccessful.

John Lennon, “Look At Me”

Another excellent Lennon tune. I’ll be honest, I came pretty close to making this a mixtape of only Lennon songs.

Bobby Charles, “I Must Be in a Good Place Now”

I tell you what: I wouldn’t mind an afterlife built from this song--apple trees in blossom, sunshine, rainbow-colored skies. I’m not sure how this song manages to feel so lackadaisical but also so full-hearted and thankful.

Connie Converse, “How Sad, How Lovely”

The story of Connie Converse is an odd and tragic one. A songwriter in the '50s, she didn’t have much luck selling her music and so moved to Ann Arbor and quit writing and performing. Then one day--this was in the early ‘70s--she disappeared altogether, telling her family in a note she intended to make a new life elsewhere. She was never heard from again! This is perhaps the gloomiest song on the list, but, depending on my mood, I also find it curiously uplifting. Sometimes you just need a sunset at the end of the street to remind you that it’s all worthwhile.

Loretta Lynn & Conway Twitty, “You Lay So Easy on My Mind”

A slow-dance in a kitchen, for sure.

D’Angelo, “Send It On”
Mazzy Star, “Fade Into You”

I don’t say so in the book, but I’m pretty sure these songs played at the middle school dance where my two main characters--Jim and Annie--once slow-danced together with enough distance between them for a flashlight beam to pass through.

Dennis Wilson, “Thoughts of You”

A sweet song with a (congruously) incongruous left-hand turn to doom & gloom. Wilson is so earnest and on-the-nose here, and I suppose that’s why I like it. Stating the obvious can be a risky move. Makes you vulnerable.

Art Landry, “Dreamy Melody”

This is the only song on this mixtape that actually features in the novel. I’ll set the scene: It’s the 1920, and two newlyweds are dancing in a living room with a small audience of friends and family. The years ahead will not be kind to these two, but for now, in this little living room, they have reason to be hopeful. I’m not sure if there’s such a thing as a ghost-song, but if there is, this one haunts the book.

Thomas Pierce and The Afterlives links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

Irish Times review
Minneapolis Star Tribune review
NPR Books review
Salon review
USA Today review

Largehearted Boy Book Notes playlist by the author for Hall of Small Mammals

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