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March 29, 2018

Jennifer Clement's Playlist for Her Novel "Gun Love"

Gun Love

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.

Jennifer Clement's timely novel Gun Love excels at both poetic storytelling and social commentary.

Salon wrote of the book:

"Through a memorable coming-of-age story set in America’s margins, Clement makes all of these things true at once: A gun is a valentine, a secret-bearer, a penitent, a world destroyer, an exposed belly, an insurance policy, a sudden act of God."

In her own words, here is Jennifer Clement's Book Notes music playlist for her novel Gun Love:

In Gun Love music is considered a "University of Love" and singers appear throughout as divine beings – like angels – who intervene.

Songs appear in the text on the very first page when Pearl, the fourteen-year-old narrator of the story, says her mother, Margot, should have known better than to fall for Eli Redmond:

(My mother…) knew all the love songs that are a university for love. She knew "Slowly Walk Close to Me," "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?," "Born Under a Bad Sign," and all the I'll- kill-you-if-you-leave-me songs.

Here is Lead Belly singing "Where Did You Sleep Last Night":

And Nirvana:

The song has this question:

My girl, my girl, where will you go

And this answer:

I'm going where the cold wind blows

In the pines, in the pines

Where the sun don't ever shine

I would shiver the whole night through.

Pearl and her mother Margot live in a car outside of a trailer park in central Florida. As events unfold, more songs appear in order to describe interior feelings or exterior events. For example, when Margot describes her piano teacher Mr. Rodrigo she says, "He was that kind of man who knew all anyone really needed was to listen to a song and be swayed". And, when Pearl describes the way Eli Redmond speaks she says, "His voice was soft and musical as if speaking were a song".

The idea of the University of Love being in songs, which appears on the Gun Love's first page, is repeated again, like a chorus, when Margot falls in love with Eli, but the songs change;

I could not understand. She knew all the songs, so why would she get messed and stirred up with a man like this? And she knew all the love songs that are a university for love. She knew the "I'm So Lonely I Ain't Even High" and "Call Me Anything But Call Me" songs.

Here is Ma Rainey singing "Call Me Anything But Call Me":

In Gun Love songs are also used as a kind of psychological way to diagnose what people are going through. And example of this Is when Pearl says," If my mother had watched another woman in this condition, she would have had the diagnosis in a second. My mother would have said, Pearl, it's like that song—she's askin' for water, but he's givin' her gasoline".

Howlin' Wolf - I Asked For Water (She Gave Me Gasoline):

When Pearl befriends the Mexicans in the trailer park she comes in contact with Mexican and tejano music but, most specifically she discovers Selena Quintanilla who was shot and killed by her manager in 1995. Pearl says, "Thanks to Corazón I began to memorize Selena's songs. She told me Selena was killed when she was only twenty-three years old and had been shot to death by her manager.

The song I liked best was "Si una vez," and used to sing it while I did my homework and Corazón was cleaning the guns. It only took her a few days of hearing me sing along to realize I could sing. I told her my mother had raised me on love songs".

Songs also appear in the novel to accompany events as is so often the case in movies. Pearl says, "My mother raised her hands and slowly brought them down on the piano. She played the first chord (...)

One music chord can make the world stop.

My mother played Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, Opus 18. I'd heard it on the radio a few times and she'd hummed it many times as she played the music on the car's dashboard.

When Pearl leaves the trailer park and drives away, the song on the radio is Laura Nyro singing "Wedding Bell Blues" with that incredible opening word, like a cry, which is "Bill":

In part three of Gun Love a song appears that speaks to Pearl's feeling for Eli Redmond. She says, "And the song came. And the song was in my head. The song was singing and it was Louisiana Red: You're tied to me girl I can feel your sweetblood call even if you sneak away I' ll find you before nightfall 'cause you are tied to me girl I can feel your sweetblood call.

And I heard my mother, with words like after-a-prayer amens, she said, Bad luck is better than no luck at all.

Gun Love closes with music and applause as blues and gospel singers accompany Pearl's life.

Jennifer Clement and Gun Love links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia page

Booklist review
The Economist review
Kirkus review
Publishers Weekly review
Salon review
Washington Post review

Largehearted Boy Book Notes playlist by the author for Prayers for the Stolen
Signature essay by the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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