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August 21, 2018

Seth Greenland's Playlist for His Novel "The Hazards of Good Fortune"

The Hazards of Good Fortune

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, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Seth Greenland's novel The Hazards of Good Fortune is a funny and thought-provoking pageturner.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

"Greenland takes a Dickensian delight in letting the plot sprawl with parallels, digressions, false leads, and twists. . . An entertaining tale rich in schadenfreude as bad things happen to a hapless billionaire."

In his own words, here is Seth Greenland's Book Notes music playlist for his novel The Hazards of Good Fortune:

A white cop shoots an unarmed black man in ambiguous circumstances, and the reverberations reach all the way up to the highest levels of society. Combining elements of comedy and tragedy, The Hazards of Good Fortune is a big, sprawling New York novel about power, race, money, sex, ambition, family, and real estate. The myriad plot threads wind around a successful and philanthropic property developer named Jay Gladstone who also happens to own an NBA team. How this paragon of New York society deals with the wholly unforeseen and increasingly dire circumstances in which he finds himself is the heart of the novel.

"Empire State of Mind" by Jay-Z
Like Jay-Z, Jay Gladstone is a titan of New York City, and there is no song that better captures what it means to bestride the metropolis like a modern Colossus than this hip hop classic. Jay-Z conveys the sense of what it feels like when the city is your personal playground. “Sittin’ courtside, Knicks and Nets give me high fives” sums up the level of public status he’s singing about and Jay Gladstone embodies it.

"Welcome Home (Sanitarium)" by Metallica
The action of the novel kicks into high gear when a scared white cop shoots a black man who has been acting erratically. The victim is John Eagle, an American veteran of the Iraq war who is battling mental illness. Troops in Iraq would blast heavy metal to psych themselves to go out on patrol. This Metallica song is based on the great Ken Kesey novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which is set in a mental hospital. If you’ve only seen the movie, do yourself a favor and read the book.

Overture to La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi
Westchester County District Attorney Christine Lupo has an extremely stressful job. And as if locking up murderers, drug dealers, and rapists isn’t enough, she’s planning to run for Governor of New York. That she suspects her husband is cheating on her does little to lower her tension level. To relax, she listens to opera on an iPod. When we meet her, she’s bumping Verdi’s La Traviata.

"Shook Ones" by Mobb Deep
The star player on the NBA team owned by Jay Gladstone is Dag Maxwell, a charismatic high scoring forward with a complicated personal life. In the middle of a difficult contract negotiation, Dag has been invited by the owner to a fundraiser for President Obama’s re-election campaign. As his brother drives him from their New Jersey home into New York City for the event, the gritty hip hop of Mob Deep is blasting from the speakers of Dag’s McClaren while they sail over the George Washington Bridge. If you watch the video of the song, you see the Mobb Deep members driving over several NYC bridges and I like the symmetry.

"I Will Survive" by Gloria Gaynor
In the 1970s, when the Soviet Union began to relax their emigration restrictions and Jews were allowed to leave the country, Jay’s older cousin Marat Reznikov was among the first wave of refugees. Although he began his American odyssey working for Jay’s father, Marat subsequently became a charter member of the Russian Mob. One of his businesses is a nightclub in Brooklyn. When Jay visits him there to ask for a favor, Marat is auditioning an African-American singer, and she is singing "I Will Survive" – in Russian. I would’ve liked to link to the Russian language version but it’s not on Spotify.

"Me and Mrs. Jones" by Billy Paul
One of the key scenes in the novel involves a spectacular act of marital infidelity. There are lots of great songs about infidelity; "Your Cheatin’ Heart" by Hank Williams and Marvin Gaye’s immortal "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" come immediately to mind. But for my money, none surpasses Billy Paul’s sinuous 1970s sweet soul gem – “We got a thing goin’ on…” A section of the novel takes place in that decade, so it feels right to hit it again.

"Oblivion" by Grimes
Jay’s daughter Aviva Gladstone is a student who, for her senior project at the liberal arts college she attends, is creating a theatre piece about Patty Hearst. Like post-kidnapping Patty, Aviva is an heiress who feels misunderstood. Deeply sympathetic to leftist causes, she worries that her more woke classmates judge her for her family’s wealth. Despite the echelon of society Aviva hails from, she is compassionate and sensitive. Although the music of Grimes does not appear in the book, you would find it in Aviva’s iTunes.

"Smooth Operator" by Sade
Jay Gladstone’s younger sister Bebe is a high-ranking executive in the Gladstone Group, the holding company that controls the various businesses the family owns. While she is not as prominent as Jay in terms of public awareness, Bebe exercises her strength no less powerfully. Shrewd and calculating, she is deeply loyal to her older brother. In the 80s, between dinners at Odeon and weekends in the Hamptons, she probably listened to a lot of Sade.

"Scenes from an Italian Restaurant" by Billy Joel
Jay’s cousin Franklin Gladstone is his partner in the family business, which they inherited from their fathers. Franklin has envied Jay for their entire lives and although Jay long ago won whatever competition there was, Franklin’s struggle to equal his cousin continues. One of the ways he’s doing this is to stick his toe into politics by funding Christine Lupo’s campaign for the Governorship of New York. Franklin and Christine cement their arrangement at the table of a restaurant in the East 60s. It’s not actually an Italian restaurant but Franklin is from Long Island and he’s the kind of guy that loves Billy Joel, so this song is close enough.

"Killing in the Name" by Against the Machine
Aviva’s friend Axel Testa is directing her show about the tribulations of Patty Hearst. The son of radical European academics, he learned to fire a semi-automatic weapon from a former member of the PLO and lords his left wing bona fides over his more timorous friends. In 2012, when the main action of the novel takes place and before the American left received the booster shot provided by the Bernie Sanders campaign, Axel is a contemporary echo of the Weathermen, and his passions are in danger of crossing the line and sliding into violence. Rage Against the Machine is what he hears when he closes his eyes at night.

Seth Greenland and The Hazards of Good Fortune links:

the author's website

Kirkus review
Newsday review
San Francisco Chronicle review

Largehearted Boy playlist by the author for The Angry Buddhist
Largehearted Boy playlist by the author for I Regret Everything
Writers & Readers 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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Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

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