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January 29, 2019

Maurice Carlos Ruffin's Playlist for His Novel "We Cast a Shadow"

We Cast a Shadow

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.

Maurice Carlos Ruffin's impressive novel We Cast a Shadow is a bold, timely, and important debut.

The Boston Globe wrote of the book:

"We Cast a Shadow is like a dispatch from the frontlines of the African-American psyche. Written with ruthless intelligence, it’s the story of a father’s love and how he tries to protect his son in a country that devours black lives through violence, incarceration, and poverty. . . . [Ruffin] can drive his story to the outer limits and beyond, and never lose the threads of bitter reality that make it so haunting. We Cast a Shadow soars on Ruffin’s unerring vision."

In his own words, here is Maurice Carlos Ruffin's Book Notes music playlist for his debut novel We Cast a Shadow:

“Etoile Polaire (North Star)” and “Are Years What? (For Marianne Moore)" by Philip Glass

I tend to write cinematically. The opening scene of the book has North Star playing behind it. The screen is black. You see twinkling lights, the scene comes into focus, and you see the interior of that mansion. It’s a party. That’s when you meet the Narrator leaning against the wall, pensively drinking. The other song is part of the soundtrack you hear whenever the Narrator is driving alone or plotting what to do about his son.

“All of the Lights” by Kanye West

This was an early alternate title of the book! The story is about wanting to give your child a good life just like in the song. But there are complications. Also, Kanye is a demigod of confidence. Whenever I felt stuck, I asked myself “what would Kanye do.” The answer was always the same: whatever he wanted.

“Pursuit of Happiness” by Kid Cudi

The lyrics, the tone, the video. They all say a good bit about what the Narrator is trying to accomplish and what he’s experiencing.

“Heartlines” by Florence + the Machine

Yes, every family is dysfunctional in its own way. But this is what the Narrator’s family feels like when things are going well.

“God Only Knows” by The Beach Boys

The family sings this during their trip. It’s a high moment where everything feels right with the world.

“Sawdust & Diamonds” by Joanna Newsom

The Narrator’s heart in a song. Also, Newsom is the artist who most consistently makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. She works with beauty and mortality to great effect. I used these ingredients copiously in the construction of the book.

“Disparate Youth” by Santigold

This is Araminta’s theme song. I often play it as I’m about to do a public reading. It tells me that my ancestors are with me and whether or not things work out, I will make my presence known.

“Butterfly, How Long It Takes to Die” by Flaming Lips

I heard this song right around the time my dad got terminally ill. It immediately struck as the sound of everything going wrong. This is one of favorite bands, and I didn’t even consider going to their tour of the album this song is on because it’s so dark. I infused the book with this mood many times. (And went to the Lips next tour.)

“Little Rhymes” by Mercury Rev

The Narrator is on a mission he doesn’t think anyone understands, and he uses a variety of techniques to dull the pain he feels.

“Disintegration” by The Cure

The Narrator is an emotional goth and this song represents an aspect of his consciousness very well.

“A Strange Flower for Birds and Butterflies” by Holly Roadfeldt

This brilliant classical song encompasses so many of the moods of the book. It is energetic, pensive, ephemeral.

Maurice Carlos Ruffin and We Cast a Shadow links:

the author's website

Booklist review
Boston Globe review
Kirkus review
Publishers Weekly review

New Orleans Advocate profile of the author
Driftwood interview with the author profile of the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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Largehearted Boy List of Online "Best Books of 2018" Lists

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

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