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February 23, 2018

Book Notes - Kaethe Schwehn "The Rending and the Nest"

The Rending and the Nest

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.

Kaethe Schwehn's novel The Rending and the Nest is an impressive post-apocalyptic debut.

Library Journal wrote of the book:

"Schwehn has created a postapocalyptic world in which why is not the main question. The Rending happened; accepting that is the first step toward recovery for the novel's multidimensional characters. This beautifully written story begs to be read again."

In her own words, here is Kaethe Schwehn's Book Notes music playlist for her novel The Rending and the Nest:

Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing: Sufjan Stevens
Mira, the protagonist of The Rending and the Nest, is a pastor's kid but when the apocalypse occurs and her family disappears so do the last vestiges of her faith. This song is a deeply traditional Christian hymn but Sufjan Stevens infuses it with melancholy and, especially at the beginning, you can almost hear the emptiness that surrounds the spare melody. And lyrics like "wandering from the fold of God" fit Mira's internal landscape at the beginning of the novel exactly.

Two Little Feet: Greg Brown
After the apocalyptic event, called the Rending, the sky is perpetually gray, and huge Piles of objects mysteriously appear, scattered across the landscape. Mira's job is to scavenge the Piles for things her community might need. I love this Greg Brown song for it's reference to the "big mountain" with the "Cloud comin' down cloud comin' down cloud comin' down" and to his cultural commentary about materialism: "We have no knowledge and so we have stuff and / Stuff with no knowledge is never enough."

The Temptation of Adam: Josh Ritter
Mira is in love but can't quite bring herself to pursue the relationship because she is haunted by so much loss. This tune by Josh Ritter, about a romance in a missile silo, features the singer stuck between beginnings and endings, both personal and global: "We could hold each other close and stay up every night / Looking up into the dark like it's the night sky / And pretend this giant missile is an old oak tree instead / And carve our name in hearts into the warhead."

The Riddle Song: Doc Watson
This song is one of the epigraphs of the book and it is sung by the characters at a crucial moment in the story (I won't say where). My sister introduced "The Riddle Song" to me as a lullaby when she was pregnant and so even though in the folk tradition the "love" in the song is romantic, for me the tune has always been about parental attachment. Doc Watson also sings about narratives: "How can there be a story that has no end?" and this echoes the novel's obsession with stories and who controls them.

Be My Baby: The Ronettes
The women in The Rending and the Nest begin giving birth to inanimate objects, which they refer to as Babies, so this song is an homage to those Babies and also to the moments of lightness and humor in the book. Plus, there IS a scene where one of the characters references the "nobody puts Baby in a corner" moment in Dirty Dancing. Frances Houseman, as another Baby with a capital "B," this one's for you.

At the Zoo: Simon and Garfunkel
About two thirds of the way through the book a few of the characters set off for the Minnesota Zoo where an encampment of survivors has repurposed the animal enclosures in some fairly disturbing ways. Simon and Garfunkel's zoo isn't quite so dark but the animals do behave in rather unpredictable ways: "Zebras are reactionaries /Antelopes are missionaries / Pigeons plot in secrecy /And hamsters turn on frequently."

Sapokanikan: Joanna Newsom
A former student of mine introduced me to this song, which Newsom described to NPR as: "a ragtimey encomium to the forces of remembrance, forgetting, accretion, concealment, amendment, erasure, distortion, canonization, obsolescence and immortality." I love the song's refusal to fully explain while also accreting meaning via images like "drums upon a plastic bag" and "parks where pale colonnades arch in marble and steel." There's a similar tension in the novel between accretion and concealment. "The renderer renders," Newsom sings. Yes!

Not Dark Yet: Bob Dylan
There's a lot of longing and grief and mystery that infuses this novel. Longing for the Before, grief for those who are gone, and mystery around the Babies and what caused the Rending itself. And then there are the perpetually gray skies. So both the tone of this song and the refrain echo these parts of the novel. But I'd like to think that ultimately the novel ends on the word "yet." There is still a certain kind of light left, and it might be enough for the characters to see by, at least for a little bit longer.

Kaethe Schwehn and The Rending and the Nest links:

the author's website

Kirkus review
Minneapolis Star Tribune review
Publishers Weekly review

The Gazette profile of the author
Minnesota Public Radio interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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