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October 12, 2018

Jean Thompson's Playlist for Her Novel "A Cloud in the Shape of a Girl"


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.

Jean Thompson's A Cloud in the Shape of a Girl is a marvelously poignant novel that explores the lives of three generations of Midwestern women.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"Thompson’s incisive, intricate novel centers on three generations of women living in a small, unnamed Midwestern college town. As Thompson (Who Do You Love) examines the present and past of each of the three generations of women, she adroitly reveals how their life experiences shaped them into being so different from one another. Intense, compassionate, and satisfying, Thompson’s novel is filled with real, complex characters whose destinies are inextricably tied to the women in their lives."

In her own words, here is Jean Thompson's Book Notes music playlist for her novel A Cloud in the Shape of a Girl:

My novel has three generations of women characters, and each of them has a favorite song.


Evelyn hated her husband’s piano playing. The way he mugged and clowned around, like some kind of vaudeville act. And the songs themselves. No one had taken them seriously for at least forty years. His big number was “The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi”. Swaying back and forth over the keyboard, hamming it up: “Oh the guurl of my dreams is the swee-test guurl. . .”

She had her own taste in music. She liked class and sophistication, actual musicianship, not some jackass noise. Like Ella Fitzgerald singing “Skylark.” Smooth and sad and perfect. No fool amateur could touch it.


Was it silly to think of a song as their song? Not that Laura had ever told him. She was too embarrassed. A secret song to go along with a secret affair. Who would have believed it of her, the world’s most boring wife and mother.

It wasn’t a new song even back then. Had it been on the radio in the bedroom? It was a little bit country, like he was, and a little bit corny, like she was: “Islands In The Stream”, Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton trying to out-sing the other. Dolly lifting up to the high notes on “Oh, sail away.” A song about finding someone and being found, and always having that, even as the river carried everything away.


It was an old old blues song but people kept finding it and making it new again, just as Grace had found it and claimed it for her own. “Wild Women Don’t Have The Blues”. Cyndi Lauper sang it. That was how Grace heard it first. A song about being your own woman, and not letting yourself get bent out of shape over some fool man, and being whatever wild meant to you. It was a lot to live up to, and the song didn’t tell you how to do it.

Jean Thompson and A Cloud in the Shape of a Girl links:

Publishers Weekly review

Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Do Not Deny Me
Largehearted Boy playlist by the author for She Poured Out Her Heart
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Throw Like a Girl
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for The Witch and Other Tales Re-Told

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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