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September 13, 2018

Claudia Dey's Playlist for Her Novel "Heartbreaker"


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.

Wildly imaginative and poetic, Claudia Dey's Heartbreaker is one of the year's most consistently surprising books.

The Paris Review wrote of the book:

"A fierce exploration of memory and zeitgeist . . . Heartbreaker is a darkly comedic weirdo of a book that pulls the string of nostalgia from one side while unraveling it from the other."

In her own words, here is Claudia Dey's Book Notes music playlist for her novel Heartbreaker:

My novel, Heartbreaker, starts with Billie Jean Fontaine bolting from her bungalow, in her tracksuit and bare feet, and vanishing into the cold October night. Her story is told in three parts. First, Billie’s fifteen-year-old daughter––the bombastic and industrious Pony Darlene; second, Billie’s killer dog, Gena Rowlands; and last, a watchful and mysterious teenage boy called Supernatural.

Here is my playlist. More of a mixed tape. The book takes place in 1985.

1. Whitesnake, “Here I Go Again”
When we first meet Pony, she is trying to arrange her lanky, faint body into the splits of the woman in this video. It doesn’t happen, but that’s beside the point. Pony lives in “the territory”, the remains of a cult in the far north. Population: 391. She can see her future: pregnant, married, pastel dress. A bleak life. The wrong life. A teenage girl has to dream. Sometimes those dreams are just music videos. Sometimes, they get a lot darker. Pony’s get a lot darker.

2. Air Supply, “All Out of Love”
This is the anthem the men of the territory listen to on heavy repeat in their local and only bar, Drink-Mart. It has the tragic loneliness of a mirror ball spinning in a room that will never fill. Also: I know the band meant we are oxygen, but I keep hearing a desperate question mark after the name.

3. Led Zeppelin, “Good Times, Bad Times”
Every spring in the territory is “final resting time.” The ground softens and the dead, having been stored through the long winter in a refrigerated shed, are buried at last. This is the territory’s final resting song, and a recent widow, Shona Lee, her electric blue eye shadow, her bangs flipped back, sings it with the voice of God over every fresh grave.

4. Nazareth, “Love Hurts”
When Pony and her best friend, Lana, go to buy pills from the local dealer, Neon Dean, they find him on his crumbling cement porch working out shirtless with a bag of concrete. He is listening to this song. This song has a title hot enough to rival that of any Frank Stanford poem. The way Neon Dean looks at Pony––a deep and needful scoping––makes Pony understand for the first time that she has sex appeal, and that sex appeal is currency.

5. Michael Jackson, “Billie Jean”
The central character of the novel––disappeared and yet, the storm by which all of the action takes place––names herself after this song. She heard it on the radio as she was driving north, far away from her former life. When she falls from the open door of her slowly moving Mercedes sedan onto the north highway, she is the territory’s first stranger. After observing that all of the women have double-barreled first names, Billie Jean, with a fighter’s unblinking metal, introduces herself by this one.

6. Eurythmics, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)”
I can only say that these are the last words spoken by a man to a woman before they locate each other’s bodies, and enter a high-wire act of secret love in a dense forest. I always return to the epigraph for the novel: “In love there is no because.” This was a line written by both Anais Nin and the poet, Alice Notley. They knew that love brings out our beautiful senselessness more than any other force.

7. Prince, “When Doves Cry”
There is a lot of sex in the second part of the book and it’s accompanied by reading aloud. The woman loves the sound of the man’s voice and she wants it curling into steam between their bodies. I love this song and I love its glamorous, devotional and pained title. It holds so much. Sex does too. Sex could easily be called by this song title.

8. John Mellencamp, “Hurts So Good”
Another song title spoken in the throes of love for its stupid perfection.

9. Buggles, “Video Killed the Radio Star”
Because: this song. Because: it’s playing when Supernatural nearly loses his virginity under a large coat in a cold basement crowded with teenagers doing the same thing, a bare light bulb partly unscrewed to strobe above them.

10. Pat Benatar, “Heartbreaker”
Not directly in the novel, but this song is like the novel’s punk rock ghost. Benatar sings to the camera in her gold bodysuit and black pantyhose, under the canopy of her feathered hair. A growl on: “Don’t you mess around with me,” but only after she sings about being made, unmade, and then made again by love.

Claudia Dey and Heartbreaker links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry

Globe and Mail review
Irish Times review
Publishers Weekly review

Quill & Quire profile of the author
Toronto Star profile of the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

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