February 21, 2013
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 Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.
Christine Sneed's Little Known Facts is an impressive debut novel that explores the effects of celebrity on family life. I devoured this book, cleverly told from several perspectives, in a single sitting.
Booklist wrote of the book:
"As Sneed illuminates each facet of her percussively choreographed plot via delectably slant disclosures––overheard conversations, snooping, tabloids, confessions under duress, and journal entries, among them—she spotlights “little known facts” about the cost of fame, our erotic obsession with movie-star power, and where joy can be found."
Little Known Facts is a novel about a family in Hollywood, and it began to take shape one afternoon when I was thinking about the effects fame has on the people who are close to a celebrity but are not famous themselves. In particular, I wondered what it would be like to be the adult son of someone like Paul Newman or Harrison Ford. I've thought about this kind of thing before in another permutation: Julia Roberts' older brother Eric Roberts was gaining prominence as an actor when Julia arrived on the scene as Ms. Pretty Woman in 1990, and then, apparently, all manner of hell broke loose in that family, with Eric effectively disappearing from Hollywood for many years and allegedly descending into self-destructive behavior involving drugs, babes, and motorcycles.
Needless to say, the ego is such a fragile, often harshly unforgiving thing, and it can determine the tenor of our lives if we don't figure out how to get a handle on it early on. I've found that few people want to talk frankly about jealousy, despite how much it can and often does affect human behavior. Some people I know (maybe most?) would rather disclose the details of their sex lives or digestive tract dysfunction than admit to being jealous. Little Known Facts is certainly about jealousy, but it's also about desire, love, generosity, empathy. It was a purely joyful experience to write this book. I love these characters, lustful, envious, arrogant as they might sometimes be.
Chapter 1, Relations "How My Heart Behaves" - Feist (The Reminder, album)
Will is the 26-year-old son of Renn Ivins, the famous man at the novel's center, and Will, despite his many privileges, hasn't been able to figure out what to do with his life personally or professionally. He falls in love with his father's very young girlfriend while helping Dad in New Orleans on a film set. Will knows it's not a good idea to compete with his father, in any capacity, but his heart, as the French say, "has reasons that reason doesn't know."
Feist is one of my favorite musicians and this song is wistful, spare, really beautiful. I'd say it's Will's anthem, at least for the earlier chapters in the book.
Chapter 2, Flattering Light "Slave to Love" - Bryan Ferry (Boys and Girls, album)
Here we meet Will's girlfriend Danielle, who is four years his senior, divorced, well-meaning, on the whole, but Will doesn't trust her affection for him because he lives in his father's imposingly large shadow. And Danielle is not immune to movie-star charm either. She's known Renn for most of her life, if only as a fan sitting in a darkened theater, staring up at him on the glowing silver screen.
I love this Bryan Ferry song, which I first heard on the 9 1/2 Weeks soundtrack. Danielle is a romantic. Everyone in this novel is. I find it difficult to write about characters who aren't.
Chapter 3, Meaningful Experience "Crystal" - Fleetwood Mac (Fleetwood Mac, album)
Lucy Ivins, Will's mother, is an accomplished pediatrician who was divorced by Will's father fifteen years earlier. She has not recovered from the divorce, not really. She is still a little angry, but also honest about her failings; she admits to the mistakes she has made over the years, especially those with her children.
It's this song's tone that gets me, one of my favorites in the world. Lindsay Buckingham does most of the vocals for this gorgeous song written with Stevie Nicks. He was crazy about her when they joined Fleetwood Mac; I'm not sure if he's ever recovered from her either.
Chapter 4, The Finest Medical Attention "Stupid Girl" - Garbage (Garbage, album)
Anna, Renn and Lucy's daughter, is a medical intern who falls for a charismatic, unavailable man. He wants her as his mistress, and she goes over and over his proposition in her head, trying to get the better of her body's wayward response to his nearness. He's married and they work together, but he's handsome, intelligent, and to some extent, reminds her of her father.
"Stupid Girl" is how she feels about her inability to reject Dr. Glass outright. This is such a great song – the way it seems to move inexorably forward, its engine turning with restrained urgency, so much like Anna's trajectory toward this sexy scoundrel.
Chapter 5, Stolen Gods "Red Rain" - Peter Gabriel (So, album)
The narrator of this chapter, the propmaster Jim M., knows Renn from the film productions he's worked on with him. He admires Renn greatly and thinks, somewhat desperately, that they have a bond.
I remember hearing "Red Rain" for the first time in the mid-80s, freshman year in high school; Gabriel seems to be writing about a dream, and a town that could be construed as Hollywood (though I kind of doubt it is,) There's that simple, illuminating line near the end too: "no more denial" – something Jim needs to take to heart.
Chapter 6, Unpacked Suitcases "China Girl" - David Bowie (Let's Dance, album)
Elise Connor, one of the book's main female characters, is the POV character in this chapter. She's Will and Renn's love interest, and the father-son-starlet trinity was an element that I really enjoyed thinking and writing about.
This Bowie song from the early ‘80s is probably one of his best. The video, to my early adolescent mind, was so strange, kind of racy, brooding, and dark. The part where the title character smears her lipstick across her face, I kept thinking, "Why would she do that? It doesn't make her look very good." But I get it now. Elise wouldn't do this, but Will probably would. Renn would be Bowie, cool and beautiful in his rumpled suit.
Chapter 7, Notes from This Isn't Gold "Fortress Around Your Heart" - Sting (The Dream of the Blue Turtles, album)
Melinda, Renn's second ex-wife, gets her say in this chapter. There's a vengeful tone here, in parts, but also an attempt to puzzle out just what the hell happened to her while she was married to Renn.
I think the title does a good job of speaking to why I chose this song. Melinda has a hard time forgetting Renn. Most of the women he's been involved with do. His ego is a little big, needless to say, but he's not a terrible person, which brings me to…
Chapter 8, A Good Person "For the Summer" - Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs (God Willin' and the Creek Don't Rise, album)
Here Renn gets to speak for himself, after the other characters have all weighed in on his strengths and weaknesses. I liked the idea of him taking shape in the reader's mind based on the other characters' testimony before allowing him to refute or confirm, in his own words, the opinions the reader has formed about him.
Ray LaMontagne tells us: "Ain't a man alive that likes to be alone." I think this sums up Renn pretty well, at least one part of him that proves very important to the novel's narrative arc.
Chapter 9, Billy, Will, Guillaume "Show Me" - Seal (Seal, album)
Will leaves home to step out of his father's shadow, to eat some baguettes, to stop feeling so sorry for himself, though I do feel sorry for him. But he'll be okay. He knows this by now too.
I first heard "Show Me" the summer right after I studied in France in college.
This song and the album, Seal's first, I think, will probably always be associated with that time of discovery in my mind. I went to France and realized that I wanted to try to be a writer. You could say that Will makes a similar discovery.
Chapter 10, Every Gift You've Ever Given "Cicadas and Gulls" - Feist (Metals, album)
This is Anna's second chapter. She's still a romantic but is a little more experienced now. You see how here she's fared, based on the decisions she made in chapter 4.
If Anna were a rock star, she'd be like Feist because I see her writing brainy, sublime songs about love's thornier aspects (not like there are many non-thorny aspects to love, but if you're lucky, you get the rose to go with the thorns.)
"Cicadas and Gulls" is a lullaby, as I interpret it. It's also quite sexy. Anna is at heart very gentle, but in this chapter, she's had to confront the fact that her desires, like her father's, will sometimes trump her better judgment.
Chapter 11, Hollywood Ending "Terzettino: Soave sia il vento" - Mozart (from Così fan tutte)
Lucy has the last word. She asks herself some fundamental questions about happiness and misery, and how these two forces are so often at war in her life and in the lives of the people she cares about most.
This has to be one of the most beautiful trios in existence. It's a bittersweet musical embodiment of Lucy's life: she and her children are one trio, Renn and the children are another; there's also her past, the present, and her future. She's going to be all right too, I think.
Christine Sneed and Little Known Facts links:
CarolineLeavittville profile of the author
Chicago Tribune profile of the author
The Nervous Breakdown self-interview with the author
Newcity Lit interview with the author
Tin House interview with the author
also at Largehearted Boy:
100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
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Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
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