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March 16, 2018

Book Notes - Patrick Nathan "Some Hell"

Some Hell

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.

Patrick Nathan's novel Some Hell is an impressive and poignant debut.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

"A gripping account of the intricately woven mind of a teenager. . . . Nathan has crafted an all-consuming novel in which topics like suicide, homosexuality, parenting, friendship, and psychology make up a precarious tableau in which readers can leave their own subjectivity behind and experience the world from Colin's singular viewpoint. . . . A magnetic first novel combining wit, sex, and apocalyptic reverie."

In his own words, here is Patrick Nathan's Book Notes music playlist for his debut novel Some Hell:

For me, a novel’s playlist is not music to write to. Music to write to isn’t hard to find—rhythmic, wordless, nothing that wants too badly to be heard. What I look for when creating a playlist is music to write for. These songs and their order, listened to over and over, become one of the novel’s many aspirations. Along with films, photographs, poetry, and of course other books, music offers the shape and structure the novel strives to emulate. With music, you can see the entire arc as often as you want, which is an easy way to stay with it. It’s the metronome that says, Keep writing.

Sweet Sweet: The Smashing Pumpkins

I’m not sure why, but this is one of those songs that feels like it’s always there, behind some door, no matter how far you go or what other music you listen to. It will never leave you. What I wanted, going into my novel, was to open the door and find a family that has figured out how to exist with one another, to tolerate one another. Colin’s brother and his sister, his mother and father, all exist behind their closed doors. I had to find something to destroy.

The Art of Self Destruction, Part One: Nine Inch Nails
#1 Crush: Garbage
Three Cigarettes in an Ashtray: Patsy Cline
It’s Now Or Never: Elvis Presley
Don’t Be Scared: Andrew Bird

Here are some voices, or maybe dancers—whatever it takes to stage a psychological ballet where no one allows themselves to come into contact with anyone else, where no one really speaks to anyone else. This is, now, a damaged family. Of course there had to be cigarettes and they had to sound lonely. There had to be Garbage with a shade of Romeo & Juliet, even if it’s only Colin who’s star-crossed—his best friend and #1 Crush barely sees him as human. There had to be hope and beauty, a glance outside at the weather. There had to be a texture like music shredding itself, coming undone, to match what the novel itself wanted to be: unstable even in its early pages. None of this can last. Even the characters know that, despite pretending otherwise.

Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This): Marilyn Manson
Long Black Snake Moan: Hank Pine and Lily Fawn
Green Grass: Tom Waits
Million Dollar Man: Lana Del Rey
We Do What We’re Told (Milgram’s 37): Peter Gabriel

Things darken. So much of this novel is Alan, dead in the earliest pages, speaking through the notebooks he’s left behind full of historical and scientific facts, lists, anecdotes, and, occasionally, his own memories, even desires. “Lay your head where my heart used to be”: when Diane visits the cemetery, over a year after his death, this is the voice she longs to hear, speaking from beneath the green grass. But of course there’s nothing to hear, at least not outside of cinematic fairytales, those beautiful picnics with the dead.

Things deepen: Colin’s fantasies, which oscillate between getting fucked and getting murdered; his and his mother's dreams of hell and hell on earth; their mutually-destructive dependence upon one another; and their willingness to carry on with the identities prescribed them by what our culture expects of the bereaved, the steps and rituals that check all the boxes: sad, angry, healing, growing. It’s always easier to perform grief than it is to feel it, to look at it. Neither can do this any longer, and they think they know how to fix it.

Station to Station: David Bowie
American Wheeze: 16 Horsepower
Third Day of a Seven Day Binge: Marilyn Manson
Half Heart: Angelo Badalamenti and David Lynch
Self Destruction, Final: Nine Inch Nails

A time signature change. The first five minutes of Bowie’s “Station to Station” are plodding, rhythmic, and could go on in perpetuity. The shift is radical: a new song erupts from within the song we thought we’d figured out, and then, stunningly, it does it again. By the time we reach the novel’s third section, everything begins to need this kind of radical and ongoing change. As Colin and Diane drive from Minneapolis to California, their road trip is the first major shift, their arrival in L.A. the second. Away from their home and cleaved from all consequences, their lives become more unstable than ever. Even the text itself comes apart. What promised to be a healing vacation, a way to get to know each other and break their routine of grief, becomes an out-of-control binge where each indulges their worst tendencies. Yet each grows as an individual, a more complete human being. Cruelly (on my part), they recognize this: they’ve pushed too hard and gone too far, and it’s with Badalamenti’s “Half Heart” that they appreciate this, that they step outside of time. This is their moment to see one another, to be honest with themselves, and it would be a neat little ending to a very different kind of novel, were it not for that final shift, that final track.

Patrick Nathan and Some Hell links:

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

Booklist review
Kirkus review
Minneapolis Star Tribune review
Publishers Weekly review

Minneapolis City pages profile of the author
Minnesota Public Radio 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

Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
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Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists

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