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March 21, 2018

Book Notes - Jamey Bradbury "The Wild Inside"

The Wild Inside

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.

Jamey Bradbury's debut novel The Wild Inside is a stunning coming-of-age novel that defies genre.

Library Journal wrote of the book:

"[Jamey] Bradbury has written a lovely and intense novel about the precarious balance of life and death, what it means to be human and fragile in a hostile environment, and, perhaps, what it means to be something other than entirely human."

In her own words, here is Jamey Bradbury's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel The Wild Inside:

I write first thing in the morning, while the haze of sleep and whatever I dreamed about still clings to me. I like writing in this state—it feels sort of like writing while hypnotized, or under a spell, and it makes the transition from the real world to one of my own imagination feel effortless. So I don’t listen to music while I write. If I were to give you the soundtrack of The Wild Inside, I’d have to send you a recording of the watery gurgle of my baseboard heater.

I don’t imagine music being very important in my protagonist’s life, given Tracy’s preference for the natural world; her soundtrack would be birds whistling, twigs snapping underfoot, her dogs’ rough paws churning over an ice-crusted lake, and the slumph of softening snow sloughing itself from branches. But Tracy (reluctantly) has to live in the real world sometimes, too, and in the real world, there’s staticky music on the radio, and her dad’s favorite carol on Christmas morning, and whatever song her brother is currently obsessed with blasting from his room. So some of what follows is what I imagine to be the soundtrack of the Petrikoff household the year Tracy is training for the Iditarod and two different strangers turn up to derail her plans and threaten her family. And some is my own Alaskan soundtrack, the music that carried me through my first years here, as I slowly learned the mountains, and the water, and the ever-changing backdrop of the Chugach Range.

“One Man Guy” by Loudon Wainwright

It was really Rufus Wainwright’s cover of his father’s song that I first heard, and I loved the mumbly plaintiveness in Rufus’s voice as he admits, “Being your own one and only is a dirty selfish trick.” Man, he really gets it! I remember feeling in my twenties, when I was already shaping up to be the lifetime loner I would eventually become. Before I realized I was best on my own, I was very dramatic about being my own sort of “one man guy,” and I can imagine Tracy being the same way. Although she’s tough and practical and single-minded, she’s also a teenage girl, and she can be a little dramatic in her own right.

The Wild Inside is a bit of a period piece—readers will note there are no computers or cell phones—so Tracy wouldn’t have heard the Rufus version. She might have caught Loudon singing his own composition, maybe over the radio in March, when someone in the house tuned away from the Iditarod report for a few minutes.

“Droning Click” by Dan Coleron

I was 23 when I first came up to Alaska, not too far out of college, and that first year had the aura of an extended college semester: days spent working hard and learning, nights spent drinking and having long conversations that seemed Epic and Important. A lot of that drinking and conversing happened at Anchorage open mic nights, especially at Snow City Café, where I first heard local singer-songwriter Dan Coleron. His acoustic guitar-driven songs, many of which were about the state, its landscape, and the solace and yearning a soul could find here, became the soundtrack of my Alaska.

“Droning Click” adds a soaring violin to Dan’s guitar as he laments over the sad state of the modern world and longs for something simpler. Tracy already has access to the natural world the voice in “Droning Click” pines for; like that voice, Tracy finds that the air that she breathes when she goes running deep in the woods “sends [her] soul into a cleaner phase.” Like that voice, all Tracy really wants is to “[leave] now to get off that ride, to find a smaller place somewhere deep inside.”

“Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin

We come from the land of the ice and snow/From the midnight sun…I realize Led Zeppelin wrote this song about Vikings setting forth to conquer new lands, but that first line is pure Alaska. The pulsating beat makes me think of Tracy’s fevered runs through the woods, the pounding of her strides as she tries to escape whatever turmoil is happening at home. That primal scream in the song—“Ahh-ahh-ahhhhhhhh-AH!”—could easily be the sound of the horror rising inside her with each revelation of how her own actions have endangered her family, her home, and everything she cares about.

“Far Away” by Martha Wainwright

I love me a Wainwright. And Martha’s got a voice that can hypnotize you—it whispers and sighs and wails, all the while lulling you into a sort of meditative state. I love the way “Far Away” builds, with Martha’s backup singers gradually blending in behind her vocals, which rise toward a climax with, “And the dogs/They bark and they bark and they bark and they bark and they bark.” Martha’s dogs bark for different reasons than Tracy’s dogs, who may have sensed something (or someone) unknown slinking through the woods, approaching the house. 

But when Martha sings, “I know that we've never met before/But that was then, and now I need you more,” I can’t help but think of Tracy meeting Jesse, a bedraggled stranger with a secret who comes to her house looking for work, and the way Tracy grows simultaneously wary of him and drawn to him—the way Jesse begins to bring something out in Tracy that she finds she needs more and more.

“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” by Johnny Cash

When Christmas comes to the Petrikoff household, it’s a pause in the action. The Iditarod sled dog race, which Tracy plans to compete in, is coming, but for a moment, the family sets aside all the work and worry associated with the race, and they celebrate. But there’s a tinge of sadness around this Christmas, too: It’s the second one after Tracy’s mother’s death, plus Tracy’s favorite dog, Old Su, is ailing.

The Christmas songs I’ve loved best are always the ones that sound sort of mournful. “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” ought to be a joyous song—heralding “peace on earth, good will to men.” Even as the narrator of that song worries, “There is no peace on earth…for hate is strong,” he’s reassured by those bells that “God is not dead, nor does he sleep.” Still, the melody doesn’t really get any peppier at that point. Johnny Cash’s voice is resonant and solid, like something you could grab hold of when you’re drowning in sorrow, but it also sounds almost resigned: Peace on earth, no peace on earth—here we are, trying to celebrate another Christmas, whatever else is going on.

“Wild World” by Cat Stevens

This is the kind of thing I imagine Tracy’s dad, Bill, playing on a cassette tape in his truck as he drives the kids into the village, or while he’s plowing driveways to make a little extra money. As a song about letting go and wishing someone the best, despite parting ways, it’s also fitting for what happens over the course of the book: There’s a lot of letting go in The Wild Inside. When Cat Stevens sings, “Oh, baby, baby, it’s a wild world/I’ll always remember you like a child, girl,” it could be Bill’s anthem. Even as he learns to let go of his girl—who, at seventeen-going-on-eighteen is more of a young woman—Bill can’t help but see her as the girl she used to be, who tagged along while he fed their sled dogs, and whom he still felt like he could understand.

Jamey Bradbury and The Wild Inside links:

the author's website

Kirkus review
Publishers Weekly review

The Author Stories Podcast interview with the author
The Qwillery interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
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my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

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