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May 14, 2018

Julia Fine's Playlist for Her Novel "What Should Be Wild"

What Should Be Wild

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.

Julia Fine's debut novel What Should Be Wild is a magnificent modern feminist fairy tale.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"Fine's stellar debut is a mystical combination of curiosity, curses, and compassion...This is an inventive and fascinating modern coming-of-age fairy tale."


In her own words, here is Julia Fine's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel What Should Be Wild:



Growing up I was an unabashed musical theater kid—not very talented but passionately committed to the idea that music was the best channel for communicating emotion. I also had, as my mother liked to say, “a lot of feelings.” To channel them, I’d stay up into the wee hours making playlists for my favorite fictional characters (there was—maybe still is—an incredible Livejournal subgroup for this, and if you dig deep you can probably find my tributes to Hermione Granger and Brokeback Mountain). I’m thrilled to be putting my past experience to good use with this What Should Be Wild playlist, a collection of songs that inspired me while writing.

Lilac Wine/Nina Simone
Jeff Buckley has a fabulous cover of this song as well, but there is something so beautifully sensual about Nina Simone’s version. The introduction is like sneaking out of bed in the middle of night, slipping out the door in a thin nightgown and heading for a field or forest—a beautiful escape from the real world. I’m sure you could hear this as a song about unrequited love, but for me the repeated chords of the chorus resolve into a feeling of such intense rightness that there’s nothing unrequited about it. This is where she’s meant to be, and although it might be frightening, she sings: I’m ready for my love. This is a song for Lucy, or really any of the Blakely women finding solace in the forest.

In a Week/Hozier ft. Alana Henderson
I listened to a lot of Hozier while first developing the landscape and mood of Urizon and Coeurs Crossing, Maisie’s ancestral home and village. Every song on his debut EP had a major impact on the novel, but this one holds a particular place in my heart. It’s a song about two rotting corpses, and an incredibly romantic meditation on the way land can provide comfort that society cannot. The lyrics also blur the lines between human life and nature—we lay here for years or for hours/so long we become the flowers—which is a sentiment I tried to capture throughout What Should be Wild. An added bonus here is Hozier’s syntax, which destroys me in the best way: we’d feed well the land/and worry the sheep. Again, he’s talking about decaying corpses. Oof. What a song.

Down By the Water/PJ Harvey
This song is the black-eyed girl’s anthem. The whispered outro is delicious, and there is an earthy glamor to both music and lyrics. The black-eyed girl is completely unapologetic, owning and celebrating her darkest impulses. Hear this playing as she stalks the creatures of the forest.

Cactus Practice/Tori Amos ft Natashya Hawley
Tori Amos’s Night of Hunters album, (both with lyrics and the instrumental version), was on repeat while I edited and rewrote the novel. It’s a concept album—each song is a variation on a different piece of classical music, and the story follows a woman exploring a failed romantic relationship alongside an embodiment of a mythical goddess of duality, played by Amos’ daughter. This track is a take on Chopin’s Nocturne Op. 9, and is literally about taking peyote, but emotionally about a recalibration of storytelling and self. The back and forth between Amos and Hawley is playful and painful and absolutely perfect.

In the Aeroplane Over the Sea/Neutral Milk Hotel
It could be because I listened to a lot of Neutral Milk Hotel in high school, or the literal line for now we are young, or the fact it’s purportedly about Anne Frank, but this song will always make me think of teenage love. It’s a song for Matthew and Maisie, two teenagers who’ve been through enough to understand the darker parts of the world, but remain optimistic and can certainly appreciate how strange it is to be anything at all. There’s also a steadiness about the repeated guitar line, even as the instrumentals build, that just epitomizes Matthew for me.

Watch Me Overcomplicate This/Fauvely
I want to play this song for every teenage girl, or really anyone struggling with disillusionment and anxiety and self-doubt and longing, anyone simultaneously confused and empowered by desire. Fauvely’s lyrics are so raw and vulnerable—she really gets to the heart of unpacking a specific but ineffable feeling. That she does so in an upbeat way, tongue often in cheek, makes this the perfect song for Maisie.

My Body is a Cage/Arcade Fire
This one is quite literal: My body is a cage that keeps me/ from dancing with the one I love/but my mind holds the key. One of the more intriguing aspects of writing Maisie was figuring out how she’d exist among people she can’t ever touch—specifically as a young woman coming into her sexuality. She has romantic and sexual feelings for two characters over the course of the novel—one is more of a girl-pines-for-movie-star crush, the other a deep emotional connection. For each, she sees the cage of her body simultaneously as restrictive and protective armor.

É Isso Aí (The Blower’s Daughter)/Seu Jorge with Ana Carolina
This is another song for Matthew. Damien Rice wrote and sings the original, (“The Blower’s Daughter”), and I listened to a lot of his music while writing. He’s an incredibly vulnerable songwriter, which in turn helps me access my characters’ vulnerabilities. But this Seu Jorge cover captures the wistfulness of the original song while adding the warmth and joy that I associate with Matthew’s infatuation with Maisie. The fact that it’s a live track is an added bonus.

Crystal Falls/Audra Isadora
This song is from an album of glam soul music, and no genre could better describe the black-eyed girl. The instrumentals on this track are beautifully creepy and unnerving, and Audra Isadora’s voice is alluring and coy and commanding all at on I was once like you princess/I never had to put up a fight/But now I color my own darkness/ I’m the queen of the night. A powerful coming-of-age message from the black-eyed girl to Maisie.

Another New World/Josh Ritter
Peter Cothay, Maisie’s father, is extremely single-minded, often to the detriment of everything around him. This beautiful Josh Ritter fable is a moving depiction of the sacrifices made in pursuit of a career, and what it means to prize one’s work above all else. I see this as a song about selfishness and hubris and adrenaline and regret. The line [I] pretend that the search for another new world was well worth the burning of mine is perfectly Peter and utterly gutting.

Consolation Prize/Sharon Van Etten
I love the measured way in which Sharon Van Etten tells off her former/potential suitor in this song. Her tone is so matter of fact: basically saying “don’t think I’ll just wait here while you string me along. I’m not going to make a scene, but I’m worth more than what you’re giving me.” There’s such power in saying no, power that the Blakely women—including Maisie—are at various stages of learning to harness throughout the novel.

How Much Light/Ryan Adams
This is the song I hear playing at the end of What Should Be Wild. Maisie imagines that the feeling of finally touching another living human being without consequence would feel like the sun against her skin. Much of the book is about embracing darkness and desire, and while we often associate light with “good” and dark with “bad,” I’d like to think there’s more nuance than that. Maisie lets in the light along with the darkness as she opens herself up to new emotions and experiences. As always, Ryan Adams’ lyrics are just perfect: The way back home’s through the wild and the winds/the way back home’s in your arms/all my life I’ve been searching for something and/I could never get it right/I’ve never seen so much light.


Julia Fine and What Should Be Wild links:

the author's website

BookPage review
Kirkus review
Publishers Weekly review

BookTrib interview with the author
Chicago magazine profile of the author
The Qwillery interview with the author
Writer's bone 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
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists


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