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February 26, 2018

Book Notes - Douglas Light "Where Night Stops"

Where Night Stops

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 Jesmyn Ward, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Douglas Light's novel Where Night Stops is a mesmerizing and clever literary thriller.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

"This sinuous narrative works neatly, both as a gripping novel and a solid meditation on identity."

In his own words, here is Douglas Light's Book Notes music playlist for his novel Where Night Stops:

I wrote Where Night Stops between 2008-2011. The years since have been spent revising, deleting, and rewriting. Unlike High Fidelity by Nick Hornsby, Flashes of Life by Micah Ling, or How Music Works by David Byrne, music isn't the living core of Where Night Stops. It did play a vital role in its creation, though. The songs in my playlist serve as cairns, landmarks in my life. Hearing one of the songs on the list pulls me back to a specific time and place. These moments are the spaces between notes, the pauses that define. They helped me shape the novel. They helped me create emotional truths.

Pavement, "Summer Babe (Winter Version)"

I'd moved to Seattle in August of 1991 with $382 and the dream of becoming a writer. What I became was homeless, first sleeping in the woods south of the city then moving in a homeless shelter when winter came on. Homelessness and unemployment are often conflated. I worked two jobs while in the shelter, the first selling luggage at a store downtown during the day and the second working the overnight shift at a gas station three nights a week. How I came across Slanted and Enchanted, I can't recall. It was on cassette tape, I remember, and as I lay on my cot at night in the shelter playing "Summer Babe (Winter Version)" time and again on a Walkman that chew through batteries, I told myself time and again that things would work out. I told myself I'd be okay.

Cat Powers, "Metal Heart" (Moon Pix)

The woman ate crabs from a brown paper bag while riding the packed F train south, tossing the legs and shell shrapnel on the floor. I'd been living in New York City for four years. The gleam and excitement of the city had yet to sour—I found episodes like the crab eating woman intriguing, new, and perversely amazing. As the subway doors closed at 14th Street, the woman stood up and announced to the entire car, "Sorry, all!" then lifted her peasant skirt and urinated. A collective groan sounded. People crowded to the far end of train, away from the woman, from the crab shards, from the pooling urine. As we rounded the bend and head into the West 4th Street station, the train braked. The urine raced toward the far end of the train—the end where everyone, watching with horror, huddled. That night, I saw Cat Power for the first time at the Tonic on the Lower East Side. It was 1999. By the time I left NYC in 2016, I'd lost the capacity to create new memories. By the time I left, women eating crabs and urinating on the F train no longer fazed me.

Beirut, "Elephant Gun"

Once, in Athens, Greece, I decided to go for a jog. Athens is a city of ruins, both new and old, and isn't the greatest of place to jog. I'm an awful runner, hobbling at a pace slightly faster than a brisk walk. People who run fast impress me. Still, the people of Athens acted like they'd never seen someone out for a run. They'd stop and stare as I passed. Ten minutes into my workout, I felt presence; I was being followed. Turning, I found three feral dogs trotting closely behind. I continued on, hoping they'd grow bored and trail off. Hoping I wouldn't be eaten alive. More joined the procession, and soon I had 12 dogs on my heels. Far from being vicious, they seemed to enjoy the workout. Seemed to enjoy having purpose, a conquest with no kill required. It was only when I stopped running that the teeth were bared and the growls began. "Elephant Gun" is an amazing song. I listened to it often while working on Where Night Stops. Why it reminds me of Athens, I can't say.

Liz Phair, "Mesmerizing"

I ran into Norman Mailer on the street once near Central Park. Old, he walked with two canes. Still, he had an intimidating strength about him. He had a body of a wrestler who could tangle you to the pavement and bloody your face, all while trash talking you. Passing him, I told myself, "I have to say something to him." I wanted to ask him about writing, about the process, how it was done. What I had to do to succeed. I'd not yet realized that my concept being a writer and the reality of being a writer were distant cousins at best. That the "muse" didn't exist and that 90% of what was put to page would never see the light of day. Circling back around, I approached him. "Excuse me," I said, my brain scrambling to form an intelligent question. Something writerly. What I ended up asking was: Which way is Broadway? He pointed a cane eastward and said, "Funny thing about Broadway" and then went into a detailed history of how Broadway originally was a deer trail that evolved into a path used by the Native Americans of the island, and then eventually became the road it now is. "That's why it doesn't follow the street grid, why it starts on the westside at the top of the Manhattan and meanders its way east as it moves south," he said, then pointed his cane at me. "It travels the way it was destined to travel." The same holds true for Liz Phair's "Mesmerizing."

Modest Mouse, "Trailer Trash"

Toward the end of my time in Seattle, I managed a coffee shop. Pete, one of the baristas, was the boyfriend of the founder of Up Records, so we often played pre-released cuts from Built to Spill, Tad, Modest Mouse, and other bands on the label. Pete was an amazing artist, creating creepy ink drawing of monsters and naked humans mingling. Others who worked there: Valerie, the painter who got repped by a hot LA gallery; Carrie, the lead singer of Hammerbox; Chris, the actor who ended up with a speaking role in Titanic. The place was a way station for people on the path to fame. That was some 20 years ago. I have no idea what any of them are doing now.

Douglas Light and Where Night Stops links:

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

The Coil review
Kirkus review
Open Letters review

Loveland Reporter-Herald

also at Largehearted Boy:

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